Helbeck of Bannisdale, Vol. I
by Mrs. Humphry Ward
.. metus ille ... Acheruntis ...
Funditus humanam qui vitam turbat ab imo
In two volumes
E. de V.
“I must be turning back. A dreary day for anyone coming fresh to
So saying, Mr. Helbeck stood still—both hands resting on his thick
stick—while his gaze slowly swept the straight white road in front of
him and the landscape to either side.
Before him stretched the marsh lands of the Flent valley, a broad
alluvial plain brought down by the rivers Flent and Greet on their way
to the estuary and the sea. From the slight rising ground on which he
stood, he could see the great peat mosses about the river-mouths,
marked here and there by lines of weather-beaten trees, or by more
solid dots of black which the eye of the inhabitant knew to be peat
stacks. Beyond the mosses were level lines of greyish white, where the
looping rivers passed into the sea—lines more luminous than the sky at
this particular moment of a damp March afternoon, because of some
otherwise invisible radiance, which, miles away, seemed to be shining
upon the water, slipping down to it from behind a curtain of rainy
Nearer by, on either side of the high road which cut the valley from
east to west, were black and melancholy fields, half reclaimed from the
peat moss, fields where the water stood in the furrows, or a plough
driven deep and left, showed the nature of the heavy waterlogged earth,
and the farmer's despair of dealing with it, till the drying winds
should come. Some of it, however, had long before been reclaimed for
pasture, so that strips of sodden green broke up, here and there, the
long stretches of purple black. In the great dykes or drains to which
the pastures were due, the water, swollen with recent rain, could be
seen hurrying to join the rivers and the sea. The clouds overhead
hurried like the dykes and the streams. A perpetual procession from the
north-west swept inland from the sea, pouring from the dark distance of
the upper valley, and blotting out the mountains that stood around its
A desolate scene, on this wild March day; yet full of a sort of
beauty, even so far as the mosslands were concerned. And as Alan
Helbeck's glance travelled along the ridge to his right, he saw it
gradually rising from the marsh in slopes, and scars, and wooded fells,
a medley of lovely lines, of pastures and copses, of villages clinging
to the hills, each with its church tower and its white spreading
farms—a laud of homely charm and comfort, gently bounding the marsh
below it, and cut off by the seething clouds in the north-west from the
mountains towards which it climbed. And as he turned homewards with the
moss country behind him, the hills rose and fell about him in soft
undulation more and more rich in wood, while beside him roared the
tumbling Greet, with its flood-voice—a voice more dear and familiar to
Alan Helbeck perhaps, at this moment of his life, than the voice of any
He walked fast with his shoulders thrown back, a remarkably tall
man, with a dark head and short grizzled beard. He held himself very
erect, as a soldier holds himself; but he had never been a soldier.
Once in his rapid course, he paused to look at his watch, then
hurried on, thinking.
“She stipulates that she is never to be expected to come to
prayers,” he repeated to himself, half smiling. “I suppose she thinks
of herself as representing her father—in a nest of Papists. Evidently
Augustina has no chance with her—she has been accustomed to reign!
Well, we shall let her 'gang her gait.'“
His mouth, which was full and strongly closed, took a slight
expression of contempt. As he turned over a bridge, and then into his
own gate on the further side, he passed an old labourer who was
scraping the mud from the road.
“Have you seen any carriage go by just lately, Reuben?”
“Noa—” said the man. “Theer's been none this last hour an
more—nobbut carts, an t' Whinthrupp bus.”
Helbeck's pace slackened. He had been very solitary all day, and
even the company of the old road-sweeper was welcome.
“If we don't get some drying days soon, it'll be bad for all of us,
won't it, Reuben?”
“Aye, it's a bit clashy,” said the man, with stolidity, stopping to
spit into his hands a moment, before resuming his work.
The mildness of the adjective brought another half-smile to
Helbeck's dark face. A stranger watching it might have wondered,
indeed, whether it could smile with any fulness or spontaneity.
“But you don't see any good in grumbling—is that it?”
“Noa—we'se not git ony profit that gate, I reckon,” said the old
man, laying his scraper to the mud once more.
“Well, good-night to you. I'm expecting my sister to-night, you
know, my sister Mrs. Fountain, and her stepdaughter.”
“Eh?” said Reuben slowly. “Then yo'll be hevin cumpany, fer shure.
Good-neet to ye, Misther Helbeck.”
But there was no great cordiality in his tone, and he touched his
cap carelessly, without any sort of unction. The man's manner expressed
familiarity of long habit, but little else.
Helbeck turned into his own park. The road that led up to the house
wound alongside the river, whereof the banks had suddenly risen into a
craggy wildness. All recollection of the marshland was left behind. The
ground mounted on either side of the stream towards fell-tops, of which
the distant lines could be seen dimly here and there behind the
crowding trees; while, at some turns of the road, where the course of
the Greet made a passage for the eye, one might look far away to the
same mingled blackness of cloud and scar that stood round the head of
the estuary. Clearly the mountains were not far off; and this was a
border country between their ramparts and the sea.
The light of the March evening was dying, dying in a stormy greyness
that promised more rain for the morrow. Yet the air was soft, and the
spring made itself felt. In some sheltered places by the water, one
might already see a shimmer of buds; and in the grass of the wild
untended park, daffodils were springing. Helbeck was conscious of it
all; his eye and ear were on the watch for the signs of growth, and for
the birds that haunted the river, the dipper on the stone, the grey
wagtail slipping to its new nest in the bank, the golden-crested wren,
or dark-backed creeper moving among the thorns. He loved such things;
though with a silent and jealous love that seemed to imply some
resentment towards other things and forces in his life.
As he walked, the manner of the old peasant rankled a little in his
memory. For it implied, if not disrespect, at least a complete absence
of all that the French call “consideration.”
“It's strange how much more alone I've felt in this place of late
than I used to feel,” was Helbeck's reflection upon it, at last. “I
reckon it's since I sold the Leasowes land. Or is it perhaps——”
He fell into a reverie marked by a frowning expression, and a harsh
drawing down of the mouth. But gradually as he swung along, muttered
words began to escape him, and his hand went to a book that he carried
in his pocket.—“O dust, learn of Me to obey! Learn of Me, O earth
and clay, to humble thyself, and to cast thyself under the feet of all
men for the love of Me.”—As he murmured the words, which soon
became inaudible, his aspect cleared, his eyes raised themselves again
to the landscape, and became once more conscious of its growth and
Presently he reached a gate across the road, where a big sheepdog
sprang out upon him, leaping and barking joyously. Beyond the gates
rose a low pile of buildings, standing round three sides of a yard.
They had once been the stables of the Hall. Now they were put to farm
uses, and through the door of what had formerly been a coachhouse with
a coat of arms worked in white pebbles on its floor, a woman could be
seen milking. Helbeck looked in upon her.
“No carriage gone by yet, Mrs. Tyson?”
“Noa, sir,” said the woman. “But I'll mebbe prop t' gate open, for
it's aboot time.” And she put down her pail.
“Don't move!” said Helbeck hastily. “I'll do it myself.”
The woman, as she milked, watched him propping the ruinous gate with
a stone; her expression all the time friendly and attentive. His own
people, women especially, somehow always gave him this attention.
Helbeck hurried forward over a road, once stately, and now badly
worn and ill-mended. The trees, mostly oaks of long growth, which had
accompanied him since the entrance of the park, thickened to a close
wood around till of a sudden he emerged from them, and there, across a
wide space, rose a grey gabled house, sharp against a hillside, with a
rainy evening light full upon it.
It was an old and weather-beaten house, of a singular character and
dignity; yet not large. It was built of grey stone, covered with a
rough-cast, so tempered by age to the colour and surface of the stone,
that the many patches where it had dropped away produced hardly any
disfiguring effect. The rugged “pele” tower, origin and source of all
the rest, was now grouped with the gables and projections, the broad
casemented windows, and deep doorways of a Tudor manor-house. But the
whole structure seemed still to lean upon and draw towards the tower;
and it was the tower which gave accent to a general expression of
austerity, depending perhaps on the plain simplicity of all the
approaches and immediate neighbourhood of the house. For in front of it
were neither flowers nor shrubs—only wide stretches of plain turf and
gravel; while behind it, beyond some thin intervening trees, rose a
grey limestone fell, into which the house seemed to withdraw itself, as
into the rock, “whence it was hewn.”
There were some lights in the old windows, and the heavy outer door
was open. Helbeck mounted the steps and stood, watch in hand, at the
top of them, looking down the avenue he had just walked through. And
very soon, in spite of the roar of the river, his ear distinguished the
wheels he was listening for. While they approached, he could not keep
himself still, but moved restlessly about the little stone platform. He
had been solitary for many years, and had loved his solitude.
“They're just coomin', sir,” said the voice of his old housekeeper,
as she threw open an inner door behind him, letting a glow of fire and
candles stream out into the twilight. Helbeck meanwhile caught sight
for an instant of a girl's pale face at the window of the approaching
carriage—a face thrust forward eagerly, to gaze at the pele tower.
The horses stopped, and out sprang the girl.
“Wait a moment—let me help you, Augustina. How do you do, Mr.
Helbeck? Don't touch my dog, please—he doesn't like men. Fricka, be
For the little black spitz she held in a chain had begun to growl
and bark furiously at the first sight of Helbeck, to the evident anger
of the old housekeeper, who looked at the dog sourly as she went
forward to take some bags and rugs from her master. Helbeck, meanwhile,
and the young girl helped another lady to alight. She came out slowly
with the precautions of an invalid, and Helbeck gave her his arm.
At the top of the steps she turned and looked round her.
“Oh, Alan!” she said, “it is so long——”
Her lips trembled, and her head shook oddly. She was a short woman,
with a thin plaintive face and a nervous jerk of the head, always very
marked at a moment of agitation. As he noticed it, Helbeck felt times
long past rush back upon him. He laid his hand over hers, and tried to
say something; but his shyness oppressed him. When he had led her into
the broad hall, with its firelight and stuccoed roof, she said, turning
round with the same bewildered air—
“You saw Laura? You have never seen her before!”
“Oh yes; we shook hands, Augustina,” said a young voice. “Will Mr.
Helbeck please help me with these things?”
She was laden with shawls and packages, and Helbeck hastily went to
her aid. In the emotion of bringing his sister back into the old house,
which she had left fifteen years before, when he himself was a lad of
two-and-twenty, he had forgotten her stepdaughter.
But Miss Fountain did not intend to be forgotten. She made him
relieve her of all burdens, and then argue an overcharge with the
flyman. And at last, when all the luggage was in and the fly was
driving off, she mounted the steps deliberately, looking about her all
the time, but principally at the house. The eyes of the housekeeper,
who with Mr. Helbeck was standing in the entrance awaiting her,
surveyed both dog and mistress with equal disapproval.
But the dusk was fast passing into darkness, and it was not till the
girl came into the brightness of the hall where her stepmother was
already sitting tired and drooping on a settle near the great wood
fire, that Helbeck saw her plainly.
She was very small and slight, and her hair made a spot of pale gold
against the oak panelling of the walls. Helbeck noticed the slenderness
of her arms, and the prettiness of her little white neck, then the
freedom of her quick gesture as she went up to the elder lady and with
a certain peremptoriness began to loosen her cloak.
“Augustina ought to go to bed directly,” she said, looking at
Helbeck. “The journey tired her dreadfully.”
“Mrs. Fountain's room is quite ready,” said the housekeeper, holding
herself stiffly behind her master. She was a woman of middle age, with
a pinkish face, framed between two tiers of short grey curls.
Laura's eye ran over her.
“You don't like our coming!” she said to herself. Then to
“May I take her up at once? I will unpack, and put her comfortable.
Then she ought to have some food. She has had nothing to-day but some
tea at Lancaster.”
Mrs. Fountain looked up at the girl with feeble acquiescence, as
though depending on her entirely. Helbeck glanced from his pale sister
to the housekeeper in some perplexity.
“What will you have?” he said nervously to Miss Fountain. “Dinner, I
think, was to be at a quarter to eight.”
“That was the time I was ordered, sir,” said Mrs. Denton.
“Can't it be earlier?” asked the girl impetuously.
Mrs. Denton did not reply, but her shoulders grew visibly rigid.
“Do what you can for us, Denton,” said her master hastily, and she
went away. Helbeck bent kindly over his sister.
“You know what a small establishment we have, Augustina. Mrs.
Denton, a rough girl, and a boy—that's all. I do trust they will be
able to make you comfortable.”
“Oh, let me come down, when I have unpacked, and help cook,” said
Miss Fountain brightly. “I can do anything of that sort.”
Helbeck smiled for the first time. “I am afraid Mrs. Denton wouldn't
take it kindly. She rules us all in this old place.”
“I dare say,” said the girl quietly. “It's fish, of course?” she
added, looking down at her stepmother, and speaking in a meditative
“It's a Friday's dinner,” said Helbeck, flushing suddenly, and
looking at his sister, “except for Miss Fountain. I supposed——”
Mrs. Fountain rose in some agitation and threw him a piteous look.
“Of course you did, Alan—of course you did. But the doctor at
Folkestone—he was a Catholic—I took such care about that!—told me I
mustn't fast. And Laura is always worrying me. But indeed I didn't want
to be dispensed!—not yet!”
Laura said nothing; nor did Helbeck. There was a certain
embarrassment in the looks of both, as though there was more in Mrs.
Fountain's words than appeared. Then the girl, holding herself erect
and rather defiant, drew her stepmother's arm in hers, and turned to
“Will you please show us the way up?”
Helbeck took a small hand-lamp and led the way, bidding the
newcomers beware of the slipperiness of the old polished boards. Mrs.
Fountain walked with caution, clinging to her stepdaughter. At the foot
of the staircase she stopped, and looked upward.
“Alan, I don't see much change!”
He turned back, the light shining on his fine harsh face and
“Don't you? But it is greatly changed, Augustina. We have shut up
half of it.”
Mrs. Fountain sighed deeply and moved on. Laura, as she mounted the
stairs, looked back at the old hall, its ceiling of creamy stucco, its
panelled walls, and below, the great bare floor of shining oak with
hardly any furniture upon it—a strip of old carpet, a heavy oak table,
and a few battered chairs at long intervals against the panelling. But
the big fire of logs piled upon the hearth filled it all with cheerful
light, and under her indifferent manner, the girl's sense secretly
thrilled with pleasure. She had heard much of “poor Alan's” poverty.
Poverty! As far as his house was concerned, at any rate, it seemed to
her of a very tolerable sort.
* * * * *
In a few minutes Helbeck came downstairs again, and stood absently
before the fire on the hearth. After a while, he sat down beside it in
his accustomed chair—a carved chair of black Westmoreland oak—and
began to read from the book which he had been carrying in his pocket
out of doors. He read with his head bent closely over the pages,
because of short sight; and, as a rule, reading absorbed him so
completely that he was conscious of nothing external while it lasted.
To-night, however, he several times looked up to listen to the sounds
overhead, unwonted sounds in this house, over which, as it often seemed
to him, a quiet of centuries had settled down, like a fine dust or
deposit, muffling all its steps and voices. But there was nothing
muffled in the voice overhead which he caught every now and then,
through an open door, escaping, eager and alive, into the silence; or
in the occasional sharp bark of the dog.
“Horrid little wretch!” thought Helbeck. “Denton will loathe it.
Augustina should really have warned me. What shall we do if she and
Denton don't get on? It will never answer if she tries meddling in the
kitchen—I must tell her.”
Presently, however, his inner anxieties grew upon him so much that
his book fell on his knee, and he lost himself in a multitude of small
scruples and torments, such as beset all persons who live alone. Were
all his days now to be made difficult, because he had followed his
conscience, and asked his widowed sister to come and live with him?
“Augustina and I could have done well enough. But this girl—well,
we must put up with it—we must, Bruno!”
He laid his hand as he spoke on the neck of a collie that had just
lounged into the hall, and come to lay its nose upon his master's knee.
Suddenly a bark from overhead made the dog start back and prick its
“Come here, Bruno—be quiet. You're to treat that little brute with
proper contempt—do you hear? Listen to all that scuffling and talking
upstairs—that's the new young woman getting her way with old Denton.
Well, it won't do Denton any harm. We're put upon sometimes, too,
And he caressed the dog, his haughty face alive with something half
bitter, half humorous.
At that moment the old clock in the hall struck a quarter past
seven. Helbeck sprang up.
“Am I to dress?” he said to himself in some perplexity.
He considered for a moment or two, looking at his shabby serge suit,
then sat down again resolutely.
“No! She'll have to live our life. Besides, I don't know what Denton
And he lay back in his chair, recalling with some amusement the
criticisms of his housekeeper upon a young Catholic friend of his
who—rare event—had spent a fishing week with him in the autumn, and
had startled the old house and its inmates with his frequent changes of
raiment. “It's yan set o' cloas for breakfast, an anudther for fishin,
an anudther for ridin, an yan for when he cooms in, an a fine suit for
dinner—an anudther fer smoakin—A should think he mut be oftener naked
nor donned!” Denton had said in her grim Westmoreland, and Helbeck had
often chuckled over the remark.
An hour later, half an hour after the usual time, Helbeck, all the
traces of his muddy walk removed, and garbed with scrupulous neatness
in the old black coat and black tie he always wore of an evening, was
sitting opposite to Miss Fountain at supper.
“You got everything you wanted for Augustina, I hope?” he said to
her shyly as they sat down. He had awaited her in the dining-room
itself, so as to avoid the awkwardness of taking her in. It was some
years since a woman had stayed under his roof, or since he had been a
guest in the same house with women.
“Oh yes!” said Miss Fountain. But she threw a sly swift glance
towards Mrs. Denton, who was just coming into the room with some
coffee, then compressed her lips and studied her plate. Helbeck
detected the glance, and saw too that Mrs. Denton's pink face was
flushed, and her manner discomposed.
“The coffee's noa good,” she said abruptly, as she put it down; “I
couldn't keep to 't.”
“No, I'm afraid we disturbed Mrs. Denton dreadfully,” said Miss
Fountain, shrugging her shoulders. “We got her to bring up all sorts of
things for Augustina. She was dreadfully tired—I thought she would
faint. The doctor scolded me before we left, about letting her go
without food. Shall I give you some fish, Mr. Helbeck?”
For, to her astonishment, the fish even—a very small portion—was
placed before herself, side by side with a few fragments of cold
chicken; and she looked in vain for a second plate.
As she glanced across the table, she caught a momentary shade of
embarrassment in Helbeck's face.
“No, thank you,” he said. “I am provided.”
His provision seemed to be coffee and bread and butter. She raised
her eyebrows involuntarily, but said nothing, and he presently busied
himself in bringing her vegetables and wine, Mrs. Denton having left
“I trust you will make a good meal,” he said gravely, as he waited
upon her. “You have had a long day.”
“Oh, yes!” said Miss Fountain impetuously, “and please don't ever
make any difference for me on Fridays. It doesn't matter to me in the
least what I eat.”
Helbeck offered no reply. Conversation between them indeed did not
flow very readily. They talked a little about the journey from London;
and Laura asked a few questions about the house. She was, indeed,
studying the room in which they sat, and her host himself, all the
time. “He may be a saint,” she thought, “but I am sure he knows all the
time there are very few saints of such an old family! His head's
splendid—so dark and fine—with the great waves of grey-black
hair—and the long features and the pointed chin. He's immensely tall
too—six feet two at least—taller than father. He looks hard and
bigoted. I suppose most people would be afraid of him—I'm not!”
And as though to prove even to herself she was not, she carried on a
rattle of questions. How old was the tower? How old was the room in
which they were sitting? She looked round it with ignorant, girlish
He pointed her to the date on the carved mantelpiece—1583.
“That is a very important date for us,” he began, then checked
He seemed to find a difficulty in going on, but at last he said:
“The man who put up that chimney-piece was hanged at Manchester
later in the same year.”
He suddenly noticed the delicacy of her tiny wrist as her hand
paused at the edge of her plate, and the brilliance of her eyes—large
and greenish-grey, with a marked black line round the iris. The very
perception perhaps made his answer more cold and measured.
“He was a Catholic recusant, under Elizabeth. He had harboured a
priest, and he and the priest and a friend suffered death for it
together at Manchester. Afterwards their heads were fixed on the
outside of Manchester parish church.”
“How horrible!” said Miss Fountain, frowning. “Do you know anything
more about him?”
“Yes, we have letters——”
But he would say no more, and the subject dropped. Not to let the
conversation also come to an end, he pointed to some old gilded leather
which covered one side of the room, while the other three walls were
oak-panelled from ceiling to floor.
“It is very dim and dingy now,” said Helbeck; “but when it was
fresh, it was the wonder of the place. The room got the name of
Paradise from it. There are many mentions of it in the old letters.”
“Who put it up?”
“The brother of the martyr—twenty years later.”
“The martyr!” she thought, half scornfully. “No doubt he is as proud
of that as of his twenty generations!”
He told her a few more antiquarian facts about the room, and its
builders, she meanwhile looking in some perplexity from the rich
embossments of the ceiling with its Tudor roses and crowns, from the
stately mantelpiece and canopied doors, to the few pieces of shabby
modern furniture which disfigured the room, the half-dozen cane chairs,
the ugly lodging-house carpet and sideboard. What had become of the old
furnishings? How could they have disappeared so utterly?
Helbeck, however, did not enlighten her. He talked indeed with no
freedom, merely to pass the time.
She perfectly recognised that he was not at ease with her, and she
hurried her meal, in spite of her very frank hunger, that she might set
him free. But, as she was putting down her coffee-cup for the last
time, she suddenly said:
“It's a very good air here, isn't it, Mr. Helbeck?”
“I believe so,” he replied, in some surprise. “It's a mixture of the
sea and the mountains. Everybody here—most of the poor people—live to
a great age.”
“That's all right! Then Augustina will soon get strong here. She
can't do without me yet—but you know, of course—I have decided—about
Somehow, as she looked across to her host, her little figure, in its
plain white dress and black ribbons, expressed a curious tension. “She
wants to make it very plain to me,” thought Helbeck, “that if she comes
here as my guest, it is only as a favour, to look after my sister.”
Aloud he said:
“Augustina told me she could not hope to keep you for long.”
“No!” said the girl sharply. “No! I must take up a profession. I
have a little money, you know, from papa. I shall go to Cambridge, or
to London, perhaps to live with a friend. Oh! you darling!—you
Helbeck opened his eyes in amazement. Miss Fountain had sprung from
her seat, and thrown herself on her knees beside his old collie Bruno.
Her arms were round the dog's neck, and she was pressing her cheek
against his brown nose. Perhaps she caught her host's look of
astonishment, for she rose at once in a flush of some feeling she tried
to put down, and said, still holding the dog's head against her dress:
“I didn't know you had a dog like this. It's so like ours—you
see—like papa's. I had to give ours away when we left Folkestone. You
dear, dear thing!”—(the caressing intensity in the girl's young voice
made Helbeck shrink and turn away)—“now you won't kill my Fricka, will
you? She's curled up, such a delicious black ball, on my bed; you
couldn't—you couldn't have the heart! I'll take you up and introduce
you—I'll do everything proper!”
The dog looked up at her, with its soft, quiet eyes, as though it
weighed her pleadings.
“There,” she said triumphantly. “It's all right—he winked. Come
along, my dear, and let's make real friends.”
And she led the dog into the hall, Helbeck ceremoniously opening the
door for her.
She sat herself down in the oak settle beside the hall fire, where
for some minutes she occupied herself entirely with the dog, talking a
sort of baby language to him that left Helbeck absolutely dumb. When
she raised her head, she flung, dartlike, another question at her host.
“Have you many neighbours, Mr. Helbeck?”
Her voice startled his look away from her.
“Not many,” he said, hesitating. “And I know little of those there
“Indeed! Don't you like—society?”
He laughed with some embarrassment. “I don't get much of it,” he
“Don't you? What a pity!—isn't it, Bruno? I like society
dreadfully,—dances, theatres, parties,—all sorts of things. Or I
She paused and stared at Helbeck. He did not speak, however. She sat
up very straight and pushed the dog from her. “By the way,” she said,
in a shrill voice, “there are my cousins, the Masons. How far are
“About seven miles.”
“Quite up in the mountains, isn't it?”
“Oh! I shall go there at once, I shall go tomorrow,” said the girl,
with emphasis, resting her small chin lightly on the head of the dog,
while she fixed her eyes—her hostile eyes—upon her host.
Helbeck made no answer. He went to fetch another log for the fire.
“Why doesn't he say something about them?” she thought angrily. “Why
doesn't he say something about papa?—about his illness?—ask me any
questions? He may have hated him, but it would be only decent. He is a
very grand, imposing person, I suppose, with his melancholy airs, and
his family. Papa was worth a hundred of him! Oh! past a quarter to ten?
Time to go, and let him have his prayers to himself. Augustina told me
She sprang up, and stiffly held out her hand.
“Good-night, Mr. Helbeck. I ought to go to Augustina and settle her
for the night. To-morrow I should like to tell you what the doctor said
about her; she is not strong at all. What time do you breakfast?”
“Half-past eight. But, of course——”
“Oh, no! of course Augustina won't come down! I will carry her up
her tray myself. Good-night.”
Helbeck touched her hand. But as she turned away, he followed her a
few steps irresolutely, and then said: “Miss Fountain,”—she looked
round in surprise,—“I should like you to understand that everything
that can be done in this poor house for my sister's comfort, and yours,
I should wish done. My resources are not great, but my will is good.”
He raised his eyelids, and she saw the eyes beneath, full, for the
first time,—eyes grey like her own, but far darker and profounder. She
felt a momentary flutter, perhaps of compunction. Then she thanked him
and went her way.
* * * * *
When she had made her stepmother comfortable for the night, Laura
Fountain went back to her room, shielding her candle with difficulty
from the gusts that seemed to tear along the dark passages of the old
house. The March rawness made her shiver, and she looked shrinkingly
into the gloom before her, as she paused outside her own door. There,
at the end of the passage, lay the old tower; so Mrs. Denton had told
her. The thought of all the locked and empty rooms in it,—dark, cold
spaces,—haunted perhaps by strange sounds and presences of the past,
seemed to let loose upon her all at once a little whirlwind of fear.
She hurried into her room, and was just setting down her candle before
turning to lock her door, when a sound from the distant hall caught her
A deep monotonous sound, rising and falling at regular intervals,
Mr. Helbeck reading prayers, with the two maids, who represented the
only service of the house.
Laura lingered with her hand on the door. In the silence of the
ancient house, there was something touching in the sound, a kind of
appeal. But it was an appeal which, in the girl's mind, passed
instantly into reaction. She locked the door, and turned away,
breathing fast as though under some excitement.
The tears, long held down, were rising, and the room, where a large
wood fire was burning,—wood was the only provision of which there was
a plenty at Bannisdale,—seemed to her suddenly stifling. She went to
the casement window and threw it open. A rush of mild wind came
through, and with it, the roar of the swollen river.
The girl leant forward, bathing her hot face in the wild air. There
was a dark mist of trees below her, trees tossed by the wind; then, far
down, a ray of moonlight on water; beyond, a fell-side, clear a moment
beneath a sky of sweeping cloud; and last of all, highest of all, amid
the clouds, a dim radiance, intermittent and yet steady, like the
radiance of moonlit snow.
A strange nobility and freedom breathed from the wide scene; from
its mere depth below her; from the spacious curve of the river, the
mountains half shown, half hidden, the great race of the clouds, the
fresh beating of the wind. The north spoke to her and the mountains. It
was like the rush of something passionate and straining through her
girlish sense, intensifying all that was already there. What was this
thirst, this yearning, this physical anguish of pity that crept back
upon her in all the pauses of the day and night?
It was nine months since she had lost her father, but all the scenes
of his last days were still so clear to her that it seemed to her often
sheer incredibility that the room, the bed, the helpless form, the
noise of the breathing, the clink of the medicine glasses, the tread of
the doctor, the gasping words of the patient, were all alike fragments
and phantoms of the past,—that the house was empty, the bed sold, the
patient gone. Oh! the clinging of the thin hand round her own, the
piteousness of suffering—of failure! Poor, poor papa!—he would not
say, even to comfort her, that they would meet again. He had not
believed it, and so she must not.
No, and she would not! She raised her head fiercely and dried her
tears. Only, why was she here, in the house of a man who had never
spoken to her father—his brother-in-law—for thirteen years; who had
made his sister feel that her marriage had been a disgrace; who was all
the time, no doubt, cherishing such thoughts in that black, proud head
of his, while she, her father's daughter, was sitting opposite to him?
“How am I ever going to bear it—all these months?” she asked
But the causes which had brought Laura Fountain to Bannisdale were
very simple. It had all come about in the most natural inevitable way.
When Laura was eight years old—nearly thirteen years before this
date—her father, then a widower with one child, had fallen in with and
married Alan Helbeck's sister. At the time of their first meeting with
the little Catholic spinster, Stephen Fountain and his child were
spending part of the Cambridge vacation at a village on the Cumberland
coast where a fine air could be combined with cheap lodgings. Fountain
himself was from the North Country. His grandfather had been a small
Lancashire yeoman, and Stephen Fountain had an inbred liking for the
fells, the farmhouses, and even the rain of his native district. Before
descending to the sea, he and his child had spent a couple of days with
his cousin by marriage, James Mason, in the lonely stone house among
the hills, which had belonged to the family since the Revolution. He
left it gladly, however, for the farm life seemed to him much harder
and more squalid than he had remembered it to be, and he disliked James
Mason's wife. As he and Laura walked down the long, rough track
connecting the farm with the main road on the day of their departure,
Stephen Fountain whistled so loud and merrily that the skipping child
beside him looked at him with astonishment.
It was his way no doubt of thanking Providence for the happy chance
that had sent his father to a small local government post at Newcastle,
and himself to a grammar school with openings on the University. Yet as
a rule he thought himself anything but a successful man. He held a
lectureship at Cambridge in an obscure scientific subject; and was in
his way both learned and diligent. But he had few pupils, and had never
cared to have them. They interfered with his own research, and he had
the passionate scorn for popularity which grows up naturally in those
who have no power with the crowd. His religious opinions, or rather the
manner in which he chose to express them, divided him from many good
men. He was poor, and he hated his poverty. A rather imprudent marriage
had turned out neither particularly well nor particularly ill. His wife
had some beauty, however, and there was hardly time for disillusion.
She died when Laura was still a tottering baby, and Stephen had missed
her sorely for a while. Since her death he had grown to be a very
lonely man, silently discontented with himself and sourly critical of
his neighbours. Yet all the same he thanked God that he was not his
Potter's Beach as a watering-place was neither beautiful nor
amusing. Laura was happy there, but that said nothing. All her
childhood through, she had the most surprising gift for happiness. From
morning till night she lived in a flutter of delicious nothings. Unless
he watched her closely, Stephen Fountain could not tell for the life of
him what she was about all day. But he saw that she was endlessly about
something; her little hands and legs never rested; she dug, bathed,
dabbled, raced, kissed, ate, slept, in one happy bustle, which never
slackened except for the hours when she lay rosy and still in her bed.
And even then the pretty mouth was still eagerly open, as though sleep
had just breathed upon its chatter for a few charmed moments, and “the
joy within” was already breaking from the spell.
Stephen Fountain adored her, but his affections were never enough
for him. In spite of the child's spirits he himself found Potter's
Beach a desolation, all the more that he was cut off from his books for
a time by doctor's orders and his own common sense. Suddenly, as he
took his daily walk over the sands with Laura, he began to notice a
thin lady in black, sitting alone under a bank of sea-thistles, and
generally struggling with an umbrella which she had put up to shelter
herself and her book from a prevailing and boisterous wind. Sometimes
when he passed her in the little street, he caught a glimpse of timid
eyes, or he saw and pitied the slight involuntary jerk of the head and
shoulders, which seemed to tell of nervous delicacy. Presently they
made friends, and he found her lonely and discontented like himself.
She was a Catholic, he discovered; but her Catholicism was not that of
the convert, but of an old inherited sort which sat easily enough on a
light nature. Then, to his astonishment, it appeared that she lived
with a brother at an old house in North Lancashire—a well-known and
even, in its degree, famous house—which lay not seven miles distant
from his grandfather's little property, and had been quite familiar to
him by repute, and even by sight as a child. When he was a small lad
staying at Browhead Farm, he had once or twice found his way to the
Greet, and had strayed along its course through Bannisdale Park. Once
even, when he was in the act of fishing a particular pool where the
trout were rising in a manner to tempt a very archangel, he had been
seized and his primitive rod broken over his shoulder by an old man
whom he believed to have been the owner, Mr. Helbeck himself,—a
magnificent white-haired person, about whom tales ran freely in the
So this little, shabby old maid was a Helbeck of Bannisdale! As he
looked at her, Fountain could not help thinking with a hidden amusement
of all the awesome prestige the name had once carried with it for his
boyish ear. Thirty years back, what a gulf had seemed to yawn between
the yeoman's grandson and the lofty owners of that stern and ancient
house upon the Greet! And now, how glad was old Helbeck's daughter to
sit or walk with him and his child!—and how plain it grew, as the
weeks passed on, that if he, Stephen Fountain, willed it, she would
make no difficulty at all about a much longer companionship! Fountain
held himself to be the most convinced of democrats, a man who had a
reasoned right to his Radical opinions that commoner folk must do
without. Nevertheless, his pride fed on this small turn of fortune, and
when he carelessly addressed his new friend, her name gave him
It seemed that she possessed but little else, poor lady. Even in his
young days, Fountain could remember that the Helbecks were reported to
be straitened, to have already much difficulty in keeping up the house
and the estate. But clearly things had fallen by now to a much lower
depth. Miss Helbeck's dress, talk, lodgings, all spoke of poverty,
great poverty. He himself had never known what it was to have a
superfluous ten pounds; but the feverish strain that belongs to such a
situation as the Helbecks' awoke in him a new and sharp pity. He was
very sorry for the little, harassed creature; that physical privation
should touch a woman had always seemed to him a monstrosity.
What was the brother about?—a great strong fellow by all accounts,
capable, surely, of doing something for the family fortunes.
Instinctively Fountain held him responsible for the sister's fatigue
and delicacy. They had just lost their mother, and Augustina had come
to Potter's Beach to recover from long months of nursing. And presently
Fountain discovered that what stood between her and health was not so
much the past as the future.
“You don't like the idea of going home,” he said to her once,
abruptly, after they had grown intimate. She flushed, and hesitated;
then her eyes filled with tears.
Gradually he made her explain herself. The brother, it appeared, was
twelve years younger than herself, and had been brought up first at
Stonyhurst, and afterwards at Louvain, in constant separation from the
rest of the family. He had never had much in common with his home,
since, at Stonyhurst, he had come under the influence of a Jesuit
teacher, who, in the language of old Helbeck, had turned him into “a
fond sort of fellow,” swarming with notions that could only serve to
carry the family decadence a step further.
“We have been Catholics for twenty generations,” said Augustina, in
her quavering voice. “But our ways—father's ways—weren't good enough
for Alan. We thought he was making up his mind to be a Jesuit, and
father was mad about it, because of the old place. Then father died,
and Alan came home. He and my mother got on best; oh! he was very good
to her. But he and I weren't brought up in the same way; you'd think he
was already under a rule. I don't—know—I suppose it's too high for
She took up a handful of sand, and threw it, angrily, from her thin
fingers, hurrying on, however, as if the unburdenment, once begun, must
have its course.
“And it's hard to be always pulled up and set right by some one
you've nursed in his cradle. Oh! I don't mean he says anything; he and
I never had words in our lives. But it's the way he has of doing
things—the changes he makes. You feel how he disapproves of you; he
doesn't like my friends—our old friends; the house is like a desert
since he came. And the money he gives away! The priests just suck us
dry—and he hasn't got it to give. Oh! I know it's all very wicked of
me; but when I think of going back to him—just us two, you know, in
that old house—and all the trouble about money——”
Her voice failed her.
“Well, don't go back,” said Fountain, laying his hand on her arm.
* * * * *
And twenty-four hours later he was still pleased with himself and
her. No doubt she was stupid, poor Augustina, and more ignorant than he
had supposed a human being could be. Her only education seemed to have
been supplied by two years at the “Couvent des Dames Anglaises” at
St.-Omer, and all that she had retained from it was a small stock of
French idioms, most of which she had forgotten how to use, though she
did use them frequently, with a certain timid pretension. Of that habit
Fountain, the fastidious, thought that he should break her. But for the
rest, her religion, her poverty,—well, she had a hundred a year, so
that he and Laura would be no worse off for taking her in, and the
child's prospects, of course, should not suffer by a halfpenny. And as
to the Catholicism, Fountain smiled to himself. No doubt there was some
inherited feeling. But even if she did keep up her little mummeries, he
could not see that they would do him or Laura any harm. And for the
rest she suited him. She somehow crept into his loneliness and fitted
it. He was getting too old to go farther, and he might well fare worse.
In spite of her love of talk, she was not a bad listener; and longer
experience showed her to be in truth the soft and gentle nature that
she seemed. She had a curious kind of vanity which showed itself in her
feeling towards her brother. But Fountain did not find it disagreeable;
it even gave him pleasure to flatter it; as one feeds or caresses some
straying half-starved creature, partly for pity, partly that the human
will may feel its power.
“I wonder how much fuss that young man will make?” Fountain asked
himself, when at last it became necessary to write to Bannisdale.
Augustina, however, was thirty-five, in full possession of her
little moneys, and had no one to consult but herself. Fountain enjoyed
the writing of the letter, which was brief, if not curt.
Alan Helbeck appeared without an hour's delay at Potter's Beach.
Fountain felt himself much inclined beforehand to treat the tall dark
youth, sixteen years his junior, as a tutor treats an undergraduate.
Oddly enough, however, when the two men stood face to face, Fountain
was once more awkwardly conscious of that old sense of social distance
which the sister had never recalled to him. The sting of it made him
rougher than he had meant to be. Otherwise the young man's very shabby
coat, his superb good looks, and courteous reserve of manner might
almost have disarmed the irritable scholar.
As it was, Helbeck soon discovered that Fountain had no intention of
allowing Augustina to apply for any dispensation for the marriage, that
he would make no promise of Catholic bringing-up, supposing there were
children, and that his idea was to be married at a registry office.
“I am one of those people who don't trouble themselves about the
affairs of another world,” said Fountain in a suave voice, as he stood
in the lodging-house window, a bearded, broad-shouldered person, his
hands thrust wilfully into the very baggy pockets of his ill-fitting
light suit. “I won't worry your sister, and I don't suppose there'll be
any children. But if there are, I really can't promise to make
Catholics of them. And as for myself, I don't take things so easy as
it's the fashion to do now. I can't present myself in church, even for
Helbeck sat silent for a few minutes with his eyes on the ground.
Then he rose.
“You ask what no Catholic should grant,” he said slowly. “But that
of course you know. I can have nothing to do with such a marriage, and
my duty naturally will be to dissuade my sister from it as strongly as
“She is expecting you,” he said. “I of course await her decision.”
His tone was hardly serious. Nevertheless, during the time that
Helbeck and Augustina were pacing the sands together, Fountain went
through a good deal of uneasiness. One never knew how or where this
damned poison in the blood might break out again. That young fanatic, a
Jesuit already by the look of him, would of course try all their
inherited Mumbo Jumbo upon her; and what woman is at bottom anything
more than the prey of the last speaker?
When, however, it was all over, and he was allowed to see his
Augustina in the evening, he found her helpless with crying indeed, but
as obstinate as only the meek of the earth can be. She had broken
wholly with her brother and with Bannisdale; and Fountain gathered
that, after all Helbeck's arguments and entreaties, there had flashed a
moment of storm between them, when the fierce “Helbeck temper,”
traditional through many generations, had broken down the self-control
of the ascetic, and Augustina must needs have trembled. However, there
she was, frightened and miserable, but still determined. And her terror
was much more concerned with the possibility of any return to live with
Alan and his all-exacting creed than anything else. Fountain caught
himself wondering whether indeed she had imagination enough to lay much
hold on those spiritual terrors with which she had no doubt been
threatened. In this, however, he misjudged her, as will be seen.
Meanwhile he sent for an elderly Evangelical cousin of his wife's,
who was accustomed to take a friendly interest in his child and
himself. She, in Protestant jubilation over this brand snatched from
the burning, came in haste, very nearly departing, indeed, in similar
haste as soon as the unholy project of the secular marriage was mooted.
However, under much persuasion she remained, lamenting; Augustina sent
to Bannisdale for her few possessions, and the scanty ceremony was soon
Meanwhile Laura had but found in the whole affair one more amusement
and excitement added to the many that, according to her, Potter's Beach
already possessed. The dancing elfish child—who had no memory of her
own mother—had begun by taking the little old maid under her
patronising wing. She graciously allowed Augustina to make a lap for
all the briny treasures she might accumulate in the course of a
breathless morning; she rushed to give her first information whenever
that encroaching monster the sea broke down her castles. And as soon as
it appeared that her papa liked Augustina, and had a use for her, Laura
at the age of eight promptly accepted her as part of the family circle,
without the smallest touch of either sentiment or opposition. She
walked gaily hand in hand with her father to the registry office at St.
Bees. The jealously hidden, stormy little heart knew well enough that
it had nothing to fear.
Then came many quiet years at Cambridge. Augustina spoke no more of
her brother, and apparently let her old creed slip. She conformed
herself wholly to her husband's ways,—a little colourless thread on
the stream of academic life, slightly regarded, and generally silent
out of doors, but at home a gentle, foolish, and often voluble person,
very easily made happy by some small kindness and a few creature
Laura meanwhile grew up, and no one exactly knew how. Her education
was a thing of shreds and patches, managed by herself throughout, and
expressing her own strong will or caprice from the beginning. She put
herself to school—a day school only; and took herself away as soon as
she was tired of it. She threw herself madly into physical exercises
like dancing or skating; and excelled in most of them by virtue of a
certain wild grace, a tameless strength of spirits and will. And yet
she grew up small and pale; and it was not till she was about eighteen
that she suddenly blossomed into prettiness.
“Carrotina—why, what's happened to you?” said her father to her one
She turned in astonishment from her task of putting some books tidy
on his study shelves. Then she coloured half angrily.
“I must put my hair up some time, I suppose,” she said resentfully.
There was something in the abruptness of her father's question, no less
than in the new closeness and sharpness of eye with which he was
examining her, that annoyed her.
“Well! you've made a young lady of yourself. I dare say I mustn't
call you nicknames any more!”
“I don't mind,” she said indifferently, going on with her work,
while he looked at the golden-red mass she had coiled round her little
head, with an odd half-welcome sense of change, a sudden prescience of
Then she turned again.
“If—if you make any absurd changes,” she said, with a frown,
“I'll—I'll cut it all off!”
“You'd better not; there'd be ructions,” he said laughing. “It's not
yours till you're twenty-one.”
And to himself he said, “Gracious! I didn't bargain for a pretty
daughter. What am I to do with her? Augustina'll never get her
And certainly during this early youth, Laura showed no signs of
getting herself married. She did not apparently know when a young man
was by; and her bright vehement ways, her sharp turns of speech, went
on just the same; she neither quivered nor thrilled; and her chatter,
when she did chatter, spent itself almost with indifference on anyone
who came near her. She was generally gay, generally in spirits; and her
girl companions knew well that there was no one so reserved, and that
the inmost self of her, if such a thing existed, dwelt far away from
any ken of theirs. Every now and then she would have vehement angers
and outbreaks which contrasted with the nonchalance of her ordinary
temper; but it was hard to find the clue to them.
Altogether she passed for a clever girl, even in a University town,
where cleverness is weighed. But her education, except in two points,
was, in truth, of the slightest. Any mechanical drudgery that her
father could set her, she did without a murmur; or, rather, she claimed
it jealously, with a silent passion. But, with an obstinacy equally
silent, she set herself against the drudgery that would have made her
his intellectual companion.
His rows of technical books, the scholarly and laborious details of
his work, filled her with an invincible repugnance. And he did not
attempt to persuade her. As to women and their claims, he was
old-fashioned and contemptuous; he would have been much embarrassed by
a learned daughter. That she should copy and tidy for him; that she
should sit curled up for hours with a book or a piece of work in a
corner of his room; that she should bring him his pipe, and break in
upon his work at the right moment with her peremptory “Papa, come
out!”—these things were delightful, nay, necessary to him. But he had
no dreams beyond; and he never thought of her, her education or her
character, as a whole. It was not his way. Besides, girls took their
chance. With a boy, of course, one plans and looks ahead. But Laura
would have 200_l. a year from her mother whatever happened, and
something more at his own death. Why trouble oneself?
No doubt indirectly he contributed very largely to her growing up.
The sight of his work and his methods; the occasional talks she
overheard between him and his scientific comrades; the tones of irony
and denial in the atmosphere about him; his antagonisms, his
bitternesses, worked strongly upon her still plastic nature. Moreover
she felt to her heart's core that he was unsuccessful; there were
appointments he should have had, but had failed to get, and it was the
religious party, the “clerical crew” of Convocation, that had stood in
the way. From her childhood it came natural to her to hate bigoted
people who believed in ridiculous things. It was they stood between her
father and his deserts. There loomed up, as it were, on her horizon,
something dim and majestic, which was called Science. Towards this her
father pressed, she clinging to him; while all about them was a black
and hindering crowd, through which they clove their
In one direction, indeed, Fountain admitted her to his mind. Like
Mill, he found the rest and balm of life in poetry; and here he took
Laura with him. They read to each other, they spurred each other to
learn by heart. He kept nothing from her. Shelley was a passion of his
own; it became hers. She taught herself German, that she might read
Heine and Goethe with him; and one evening, when she was little more
than sixteen, he rushed her through the first part of “Faust,” so that
she lay awake the whole night afterwards in such a passion of emotion,
that it seemed, for the moment, to change her whole existence.
Sometimes it astonished him to see what capacity she had, not only for
the feeling, but for the sensuous pleasure, of poetry.
Lines—sounds—haunted her for days, the beauty of them would make her
start and tremble.
She did her best, however, to hide this side of her nature even from
him. And it was not difficult. She remained childishly immature and
backward in many things. She was a personality; that was clear; one
could hardly say that she was or had a character. She was a bundle of
loves and hates; a force, not an organism; and her father was often as
much puzzled by her as anyone else.
Music perhaps was the only study which ever conquered her indolence.
Here it happened that a famous musician, who settled in Cambridge for a
time, came across her gift and took notice of it. And to please him she
worked with industry, even with doggedness. Brahms, Chopin,
Wagner—these great romantics possessed her in music as Shelley or
Rossetti did in poetry. “You little demon, Laura! How do you come to
play like that?” a girl friend—her only intimate friend—said to her
once in despair. “It's the expression. Where do you get it? And I
practise, and you don't; it's not fair.”
“Expression!” said Laura, with annoyance, “what does that matter?
That's the amateur all over. Of course I play like that because I can't
do it any better. If I could play the notes”—she clenched her
little hand, with a curious, almost a fierce energy—“if I had any
technique—or was ever likely to have any, what should I want with
expression? Any cat can give you expression! There was one under my
window last night—you should just have heard it!”
Molly Friedland, the girl friend, shrugged her shoulders. She was as
soft, as normal, as self-controlled, as Laura was wilful and irritable.
But there was a very real affection between them.
Years passed. Insensibly Augustina's health began to fail; and with
it the new cheerfulness of her middle life. Then Fountain himself fell
suddenly and dangerously ill. All the peaceful habits and small
pleasures of their common existence broke down after a few days, as it
were, into a miserable confusion. Augustina stood bewildered. Then a
convulsion of soul she had expected as little as anyone else, swept
upon her. A number of obscure, inherited, half-dead instincts revived.
She lived in terror; she slept, weeping; and at the back of an old
drawer she found a rosary of her childhood to which her fingers clung
night and day.
Meanwhile Fountain resigned himself to death. During his last days
his dimmed senses did not perceive what was happening to his wife. But
he troubled himself about her a good deal.
“Take care of her, Laura,” he said once, “till she gets strong. Look
after her.—But you can't sacrifice your life.—It may be Christian,”
he added, in a murmur, “but it isn't sense.”
Unconsciousness came on. Augustina seemed to lose her wits; and at
last only Laura, sitting pale and fierce beside her father, prevented
her stepmother from bringing a priest to his death-bed. “You would not
dare!” said the girl, in her low, quivering voice; and Augustina
could only wring her hands.
* * * * *
The day after her husband died Mrs. Fountain returned to her
Catholic duties. When she came back from confession, she slipped as
noiselessly as she could into the darkened house. A door opened
upstairs, and Laura came out of her father's room.
“You have done it?” she said, as her stepmother, trembling with
agitation and weariness, came towards her. “You have gone back to
“Oh, Laura! I had to follow the call—my conscience—Laura! oh! your
And with a burst of weeping the widow held out her hands.
Laura did not move, and the hands dropped.
“My father wants nothing,” she said.
The indescribable pride and passion of her accent cowed Augustina,
and she moved away, crying silently. The girl went back to the dead,
and sat beside him, in an anguish that had no more tears, till he was
taken from her.
Mr. Helbeck wrote kindly to his sister in reply to a letter from her
informing him of her husband's death, and of her own reconciliation
with the Church. He asked whether he should come at once to help them
through the business of the funeral, and the winding up of their
Cambridge life. “Beg him, please, to stay away,” said Laura, when the
letter was shown her. “There are plenty of people here.”
And indeed Cambridge, which had taken little notice of the Fountains
during Stephen's lifetime, was even fussily kind after his death to his
widow and child. It was at all times difficult to be kind to Laura in
distress, but there was much true pity felt for her, and a good deal of
curiosity as to her relations with her Catholic stepmother. Only from
the Friedlands, however, would she accept, or allow her stepmother to
accept, any real help. Dr. Friedland was a man of middle age, who had
retired on moderate wealth to devote himself to historical work by the
help of the Cambridge libraries. He had been much drawn to Stephen
Fountain, and Fountain to him. It was a recent and a brief friendship,
but there had been something in it on Dr. Friedland's side—something
respectful and cordial, something generous and understanding, for which
Laura loved the infirm and grey-haired scholar, and would always love
him. She shed some stormy tears after parting with the Friedlands,
otherwise she left Cambridge with joy.
On the day before they left Cambridge Augustina received a parcel of
books from her brother. For the most part they were kept hidden from
Laura. But in the evening, when the girl was doing some packing in her
stepmother's room, she came across a little volume lying open on its
face. She lifted it, saw that it was called “Outlines of Catholic
Belief,” and that one page was still wet with tears. An angry curiosity
made her look at what stood there: “A believer in one God who, without
wilful fault on his part, knows nothing of the Divine Mystery of the
Trinity, is held capable of salvation by many Catholic theologians. And
there is the 'invincible ignorance' of the heathen. What else is
possible to the Divine mercy let none of us presume to know. Our part
in these matters is obedience, not speculation.”
In faint pencil on the margin was written: “My Stephen could
not believe. Mary—pray——”
The book contained the Bannisdale book-plate, and the name “Alan
Helbeck.” Laura threw it down. But her face trembled through its scorn,
and she finished what she was doing in a kind of blind passion. It was
as though she held her father's dying form in her arms, protecting him
against the same meddling and tyrannical force that had injured him
while he lived, and was still making mouths at him now that he was
She and Augustina went to the sea—to Folkestone, for Augustina's
health. Here Mrs. Fountain began to correspond regularly with her
brother, and it was soon clear that her heart was hungering for him,
and for her old home at Bannisdale. But she was still painfully
dependent on Laura. Laura was her maid and nurse; Laura managed all her
business. At last one day she made her prayer. Would Laura go with
her—for a little while—to Bannisdale? Alan wished it—Alan had
invited them both. “He would be so good to you, Laura—and I'm sure it
would set me up.”
Laura gave a gulp. She dropped her little chin on her hands and
thought. Well—why not? It would be all hateful to her—Mr. Helbeck and
his house together. She knew very well, or guessed what his relation to
her father had been. But what if it made Augustina strong, if in time
she could be left with her brother altogether, to live with him?—In
one or two of his letters he had proposed as much. Why, that would
bring Laura's responsibility, her sole responsibility, at any rate, to
She thought of Molly Friedland—of their girlish plans—of travel,
“All right,” she said, springing up. “We will go, Augustina. I
suppose, for a little while, Mr. Helbeck and I can keep the peace. You
must tell him to let me alone.”
She paused, then said with sudden vehemence, like one who takes her
stand—“And tell him, please, Augustina—make it very plain—that I
shall never come in to prayers.”
The sun was shining into Laura's room when she awoke. She lay still
for a little while, looking about her.
Her room—which formed part of an eighteenth-century addition to the
Tudor house—was rudely panelled with stained deal, save on the
fireplace wall, where, on either side of the hearth, the plaster had
been covered with tapestry. The subject of the tapestry was Diana
hunting. Diana, white and tall, with her bow and quiver, came, queenly,
through a green forest. Two greyhounds ranged beside her, and in the
dim distance of the wood her maidens followed. On the right an old
castle, with pillars like a Greek temple, rose stately but a little
crooked on the edge of a blue sea; the sea much faded, with the wooden
handle of a cupboard thrust rudely through it. Two long-limbed ladies,
with pulled patched faces, stood on the castle steps. In front was a
ship, with a waiting warrior and a swelling sail; and under him, a blue
wave worn very threadbare, shamed indeed by that intruding handle, but
still blue enough, still windy enough for thoughts of love and flight.
Laura, half asleep still, with her hands under her cheek, lay
staring in a vague pleasure at the castle and the forest. “Enchanted
casements”—“perilous seas”—“in fairy lands forlorn.” The lines ran
sleepily, a little jumbled, in her memory.
But gradually the morning and the freshness worked; and her spirits,
emerging from their half-dream, began to dance within her. When she
sprang up to throw the window wide, there below her was the sparkling
river, the daffodils waving their pale heads in the delicate
Westmoreland grass, the high white clouds still racing before the wind.
How heavenly to find oneself in this wild clean country!—after all the
ugly squalors of parade and lodging-house, after the dingy bow-windowed
streets with the March dust whirling through them.
She leant across the broad window-sill, her chin on her hands,
absorbed, drinking it in. The eastern sun, coming slanting-ways, bathed
her tumbled masses of fair hair, her little white form, her bare feet
Suddenly she drew back. She had seen the figure of a man crossing
the park on the further side of the river, and the maidenly instinct
drove her from the window; though the man in question was perhaps a
quarter of a mile away, and had he been looking for her, could not
possibly have made out more than a pale speck on the old wall.
“Mr. Helbeck,”—she thought—“by the height of him. Where is he off
to before seven o'clock in the morning? I hate a man that can't keep
rational hours like other people! Fricka, come here!”
For her little dog, who had sprung from the bed after its mistress,
was now stretching and blinking behind her. At Laura's voice it jumped
up and tried to lick her face. Laura caught it in her arms and sat down
on the bed, still hugging it.
“No, Fricka, I don't like him—I don't, I don't, I don't! But
you and I have just got to behave. If you annoy that big dog
downstairs, he'll break your neck,—he will, Fricka. As for me,”—she
shrugged her small shoulders,—“well, Mr. Helbeck can't break my
neck, so I'm dreadfully afraid I shall annoy him—dreadfully,
dreadfully afraid! But I'll try not. You see, what we've got to do, is
just to get Augustina well—stand over her with a broomstick and pour
the tonics down her throat. Then, Fricka, we'll go our way and have
some fun. Now look at us!——”
She moved a little, so that the cracked glass on the dressing-table
reflected her head and shoulders, with the dog against her neck.
“You know we're not at all bad-looking, Fricka—neither of us. I've
seen much worse. (Oh, Fricka! I've told you scores of times I can wash
my face—without you—thank you!) There's all sorts of nice things that
might happen if we just put ourselves in the way of them. Oh! I do want
some fun—I do!—at least sometimes!”
But again the voice dropped suddenly; the big greenish eyes filled
in a moment with inconsistent tears, and Laura sat staring at the
sunshine, while the drops fell on her white nightgown.
Meanwhile Fricka, being half throttled, made a violent effort and
escaped. Laura too sprang up, wiped away her tears as though she were
furious with them, and began to look about her for the means of
dressing. Everything in the room was of the poorest and scantiest—the
cottage washstand with its crockery, the bare dressing-table and
“A bath!—my kingdom for a bath! I don't mind starving, but one must
wash. Let's ring for that rough-haired girl, Fricka, and try and get
round her. Goodness!—no bells?”
After long search, however, she discovered a tattered shred of
tapestry hanging in a corner, and pulled it vigorously. Many efforts,
however, were needed before there was a sound of feet in the passage
outside. Laura hastily donned a blue dressing-gown, and stood
The door was opened unceremoniously and a girl thrust in her head.
Laura had made acquaintance with her the night before. She was the
housekeeper's underling and niece.
“Mrs. Denton says I'm not to stop. She's noa time for answerin
bells. And you'll have some hot water when t' kettle boils.”
The door was just shutting again when Laura sprang at the speaker
and caught her by the arm.
“My dear,” she said, dragging the girl in, “that won't do at all.
Now look here”—she held up her little white hand, shaking the
forefinger with energy—“I don't—want—to give—any trouble, and Mrs.
Denton may keep her hot water. But I must have a bath—and a big
can—and somebody must show me where to go for water—and then—then, my dear—if you make yourself agreeable, I'll—well, I'll teach you
how to do your hair on Sundays—in a way that will surprise you!”
The girl stared at her in sudden astonishment, her dark stupid eyes
wavering. She had a round, peasant face, not without comeliness, and a
lustreless shock of black hair. Laura laughed.
“I will,” she said, nodding; “you'll see. And I'll give you notions
for your best frock. I'll be a regular elder sister to you—if you'll
just do a few things for me—and Mrs. Fountain. What's your
name—Ellen?—that's all right. Now, is there a bath in the house?”
The girl unwillingly replied that there was one in the big room at
the end of the passage.
“Show it me,” said Laura, and marched her off there. The
rough-headed one led the way along the panelled passage and opened a
Then it was Laura's turn to stare.
Inside she saw a vast room with finely panelled walls and a
decorated ceiling. The sunlight poured in through an uncurtained window
upon the only two objects in the room,—a magnificent bed, carved and
gilt, with hangings of tarnished brocade,—and a round tin bath of a
common, old-fashioned make, propped up against the wall. The oak boards
were absolutely bare. The bed and the bath looked at each other.
“What's become of all the furniture?” said Laura, gazing round her
“The gentleman from Edinburgh had it all, lasst month,” said the
girl, still sullenly. “He's affther the bed now.”
“Oh!—Does he often come here?”
The girl hesitated.
“Well, he's had a lot o' things oot o' t' house, sen I came.”
“Has he?” said Laura. “Now, then—lend a hand.”
Between them they carried off the bath; and then Laura informed
herself where water was to be had, and when breakfast would be ready.
“T' Squire's gone oot,” said Ellen, still watching the newcomer from
under a pair of very black and beetling brows; “and Mrs. Denton said
she supposed yo'd be wantin a tray for Mrs. Fountain.”
“Does the Squire take no breakfast?”
“Noa. He's away to Mass—ivery mornin, an' he gets his breakfast wi'
The girl's look grew more hostile.
“Oh, does he?” said Laura in a tone of meditation. “Well, then, look
here. Put another cup and another plate on Mrs. Fountain's tray, and
I'll have mine with her. Shall I come down to the kitchen for it?”
“Noa,” said the girl hastily. “Mrs. Denton doan't like foak i' t'
At that moment a call in Mrs. Denton's angriest tones came pealing
along the passage outside. Laura laughed and pushed the girl out of the
* * * * *
An hour later Miss Fountain was ministering to her stepmother in the
most comfortable bedroom that the house afforded. The furniture,
indeed, was a medley. It seemed to have been gathered out of many other
rooms. But at any rate there was abundance of it; a carpet much worn,
but still useful, covered the floor; and Ellen had lit the fire without
being summoned to do it. Laura recognised that Mr. Helbeck must have
given a certain number of precise orders on the subject of his sister.
Poor Mrs. Fountain, however, was not happy. She was sitting up in
bed, wrapped in an unbecoming flannel jacket—Augustina had no taste in
clothes—and looking with an odd repugnance at the very passable
breakfast that Laura placed before her. Laura did not quite know what
to make of her. In old days she had always regarded her stepmother as
an easy-going, rather self-indulgent creature, who liked pleasant food
and stuffed chairs, and could be best managed or propitiated through
some attention to her taste in sofa-cushions or in tea-cakes.
No doubt, since Mrs. Fountain's reconciliation with the Church of
her fathers, she had shown sometimes an anxious disposition to practise
the usual austerities of good Catholics. But neither doctor nor
director had been able to indulge her in this respect, owing to the
feebleness of her health. And on the whole she had acquiesced readily
But Laura found her now changed and restless.
“Oh! Laura, I can't eat all that!”
“You must,” said Laura firmly. “Really, Augustina, you must.”
“Alan's gone out,” said Augustina, with a wistful inconsequence,
straining her eyes as though to look through the diamond panes of the
window opposite, at the park and the persons walking in it.
“Yes. He seems to go to Whinthorpe every morning for Mass. Ellen
says he breakfasts with the priest.”
Augustina sighed and fidgeted. But when she was half-way through her
meal, Laura standing over her, she suddenly laid a shaking hand on
“Laura!—Alan's a saint!—he always was—long ago—when I was so
blind and wicked. But now—oh! the things Mrs. Denton's been telling
“Has she?” said Laura coolly. “Well, make up your mind,
Augustina”—she shook her bright head—“that you can't be the same kind
of saint that he is—anyway.”
Mrs. Fountain withdrew her hand in quick offence.
“I should be glad if you could talk of these things without
flippancy, Laura. When I think how incapable I have been all these
years, of understanding my dear brother——”
“No—you see you were living with papa,” said Laura slowly.
She had left her stepmother's side, and was standing with her back
to an old cabinet, resting her elbows upon it. Her brows were drawn
together, and poor Mrs. Fountain, after a glance at her, looked still
“Your poor papa!” she murmured with a gulp, and then, as though to
propitiate Laura, she drew her breakfast back to her, and again tried
to eat it. Small and slight as they both were, there was a very sharp
contrast between her and her stepdaughter. Laura's features were all
delicately clear, and nothing could have been more definite, more
brilliant than the colour of the eyes and hair, or the whiteness—which
was a beautiful and healthy whiteness—of her skin. Whereas everything
about Mrs. Fountain was indeterminate; the features with their slight
twist to the left; the complexion, once fair, and now reddened by years
and ill-health; the hair, of a yellowish grey; the head and shoulders
with their nervous infirmity. Only the eyes still possessed some purity
of colour. Through all their timidity or wavering, they were still blue
and sweet; perhaps they alone explained why a good many
persons—including her stepdaughter—were fond of Augustina.
“What has Mrs. Denton been telling you about Mr. Helbeck?” Laura
inquired, speaking with some abruptness, after a pause.
“You wouldn't have any sympathy, Laura,” said Mrs. Fountain, in some
agitation. “You see, you don't understand our Catholic principles. I
wish you did!—oh! I wish you did! But you don't. And so perhaps I'd
better not talk about it.”
“It might interest me to know the facts,” said Laura, in a little
hard voice. “It seems to me that I'm likely to be Mr. Helbeck's guest
for a good while.”
“But you won't like it, Laura!” cried Mrs. Fountain—“and you'll
misunderstand Alan. Your poor dear father always misunderstood him.”
(Laura made a restless movement.) “It is not because we think we can
save our souls by such things—of course not!—that's the way you
Protestants put it——”
“I'm not a Protestant!” said Laura hotly. Mrs. Fountain took no
“But it's what the Church calls 'mortification,'“ she said, hurrying
on. “It's keeping the body under—as St. Paul did. That's what makes
saints—and it does make saints—whatever people say. Your poor father
didn't agree, of course. But he didn't know!—oh! dear, dear
Stephen!—he didn't know. And Alan isn't cross, and it doesn't spoil
his health—it doesn't, really.”
“What does he do?” asked Laura, trying for the point.
But poor Augustina, in her mixed flurry of feeling, could hardly
“You see, Laura, there's a strict way of keeping Lent,
and—well—just the common way—doing as little as you can. It used to
be all much stricter, of course.”
“In the Dark Ages?” suggested Laura. Augustina took no notice.
“And what the books tell you now, is much stricter than what anybody
does.—I'm sure I don't know why. But Alan takes it strictly—he wants
to go back to quite the old ways. Oh! I wish I could explain it——”
Mrs. Fountain stopped bewildered. She was sure she had heard once
that in the early Church people took no food at all till the
evening—not even a drink. But Alan was not going to do that?
Laura had taken Fricka on her knee, and was straightening the ribbon
round the dog's neck.
“Does he eat anything?” she asked carelessly, looking up. “If
it's nothing—that would be interesting.”
“Laura! if you only would try and understand!—Of course Alan
doesn't settle such a thing for himself—nobody does with us. That's
only in the English Church.”
Augustina straightened herself, with an unconscious arrogance. Laura
looked at her, smiling.
“Who settles it, then?”
“Why, his director, of course. He must have leave. But they have
given him leave. He has chosen a rule for himself”—Augustina gave a
visible gulp—“and he called Mrs. Denton to him before Lent, and told
her about it. Of course he'll hide it as much as he can. Catholics must
never be singular—never! But if we live in the house with him he can't
hide it. And all Lent, he only eats meat on Sundays, and other days—he
wrote down a list——Well, it's like the saints—that's all!—I just
cried over it!”
Mrs. Fountain shook with the emotion of saying such things to Laura,
but her blue eyes flamed.
“What! fish and eggs?—that kind of thing?” said Laura. “As if there
was any hardship in that!”
“Laura! how can you be so unkind?—I must just keep it all to
myself.—I won't tell you anything!” cried Augustina in exasperation.
Laura walked away to the window, and stood looking out at the March
buds on the sycamores shining above the river.
“Does he make the servants fast too?” she asked presently, turning
her head over her shoulder.
“No, no,” said her stepmother eagerly; “he's never hard on
them—only to himself. The Church doesn't expect anything more than
'abstinence,' you understand—not real fasting—from people like
them—people who work hard with their hands. But—I really
believe—they do very much as he does. Mrs. Denton seems to keep the
house on nothing. Oh! and, Laura—I really can't be always having extra
Mrs. Fountain pushed her breakfast away from her.
“Please remember—nobody settles anything for themselves—in your
Church,” said Laura. “You know what that doctor—that Catholic
doctor—said to you at Folkestone.”
Mrs. Fountain sighed.
“And as to Mrs. Denton, I see—that explains the manners. No
improvement—till Lent's over?”
But her stepdaughter, who was at the window again looking out, paid
no heed, and presently Augustina said with timid softness:
“Won't you have your breakfast, Laura? You know it's here—on my
Laura turned, and Augustina to her infinite relief saw not frowns,
but a face all radiance.
“I've been watching the lambs in the field across the river. Such
ridiculous enchanting things!—such jumps—and affectations. And the
river's heavenly—and all the general feel of it! I really don't
know, Augustina, how you ever came to leave this country when you'd
once been born in it.”
Mrs. Fountain pushed away her tray, shook her head sadly, and said
“What is it?—and who is it?” cried Laura, standing amazed before a
picture in the drawing-room at Bannisdale.
In front of her, on the panelled wall, hung a dazzling portrait of a
girl in white, a creature light as a flower under wind; eyes upraised
and eager, as though to welcome a lover; fair hair bound turban-like
with a white veil; the pretty hands playing with a book. It shone from
the brown wall with a kind of natural sovereignty over all below it and
around it, so brilliant was the picture, so beautiful the woman.
Augustina looked up drearily. She was sitting shrunk together in a
large chair, deep in some thoughts of her own.
“That's our picture—the famous picture,” she explained slowly.
“Your Romney?” said Laura, vaguely recalling some earlier talk of
Augustina nodded. She stared at the picture with a curious
agitation, as though she were seeing its long familiar glories for the
first time. Laura was much puzzled by her.
“Well, but it's magnificent!” cried the girl. “One needn't know much
to know that. How can Mr. Helbeck call himself poor while he possesses
such a thing?”
“It's worth thousands,” she said hastily. “We know that. There was a
man from London came once, years ago. But papa turned him out—he would
never sell his things. And she was our great-grandmother.”
An idea flashed through Laura's mind.
“You don't mean to say that Mr. Helbeck is going to sell her?” said
Laura impetuously. “It would be a shame!”
“Alan can do what he likes with anything,” said Augustina in a quick
resentment. “And he wants money badly for one of his orphanages—some
of it has to be rebuilt. Oh! those orphanages—how they must have
weighed on him—poor Alan!—poor dear Alan!—all these years!”
Mrs. Fountain clasped her thin hands together, with a sigh.
“Is it they that have eaten up the house bit by bit?—poor
house!—poor dear house!” repeated Laura.
She was staring with an angry championship at the picture. Its sweet
confiding air—as of one cradled in love, happy for generations in the
homage of her kindred and the shelter of the old house—stood for all
the natural human things that creeds and bigots were always trampling
Mrs. Fountain, however, only shook her head.
“I don't think Alan's settled anything yet. Only Mrs. Denton's
afraid.—There was somebody came to see it a few days ago——”
“He certainly ought not to sell it,” repeated Laura with emphasis.
“He has to think of the people that come after. What will they care for
orphanages? He only holds the picture in trust.”
“There will be no one to come after,” said Augustina slowly. “For of
course he will never marry.”
“Is he too great a saint for that too?” cried Laura. “Then all I can
say, Augustina, is that—it—would—do him a great deal of good.”
She beat her little foot on the ground impatiently, pointing the
“You don't know anything about him, Laura,” said Mrs. Fountain, with
an attempt at spirit. Then she added reproachfully: “And I'm sure he
wants to be kind to you.”
“He thinks me a little heretical toad, thank you!” said Laura,
spinning round on the bare boards, and dropping a curtsey to the
Romney. “But never mind, Augustina—we shall get on quite properly.
Now, aren't there a great many more rooms to see?”
Augustina rose uncertainly. “There is the chapel, of course,” she
said, “and Alan's study——”
“Oh! we needn't go there,” said Laura hastily. “But show me the
Mr. Helbeck was still absent, and they had been exploring
Bannisdale. It was a melancholy progress they had been making through a
house that had once—when Augustina left it—stood full of the
hoardings and the treasures of generations, and was now empty and
It was evident that, for his sister's welcome, Mr. Helbeck had
gathered into the drawing-room, as into her bedroom upstairs, the best
of what still remained to him. Chairs and tables, and straight-lined
sofas, some of one date, some of another, collected from the garrets
and remote corners of the old house, and covered with the oddest
variety of faded stuffs, had been stiffly set out by Mrs. Denton upon
an old Turkey carpet, whereof the rents and patches had been concealed
as much as possible. Here at least was something of a cosmos—something
of order and of comfort.
The hall too, and the dining-room, in spite of their poor new
furnishings, were still human and habitable. But most of the rooms on
which Laura and Mrs. Fountain had been making raid were like that first
one Laura had visited, mere homes of lumber and desolation. Blinds
drawn; dust-motes dancing in the stray shafts of light that struck
across the gloom of the old walls and floors. Here and there some
lingering fragment of fine furniture; but as a rule bareness, poverty,
and void—nothing could be more piteous, or, to Mrs. Fountain's memory,
more surprising. For some years before she left Bannisdale, her father
had not known where to turn for a pound of ready money. Yet when she
fled from it, the house and its treasures were still intact.
The explanation of course was very simple. Alan Helbeck had been
living upon his house, as upon any other capital. Or rather he had been
making alms of it. The house stood gashed and bare that Catholic
orphans might be put to school—was that it? Laura hardly listened to
Augustina's plaintive babble as they crossed the hall. It was all about
Alan, of course—Alan's virtues, Alan's charities. As for the orphans,
the girl hated the thought of them. Grasping little wretches! She could
see them all in a sanctimonious row, their eyes cast up, and
rosaries—like the one Augustina was always trying to hide from her—in
their ugly little hands.
They turned down a long stone passage leading to the chapel. As they
neared the chapel door there was a sound of voices from the hall at
“It's Alan,” said Augustina peering, “and Father Bowles!”
She hurried back to meet them, skirts and cap-strings flying. Laura
But after a few words with his sister, Helbeck came up to his guest
with outstretched hand.
“I hope we have not kept you waiting for dinner. May I introduce
Father Bowles to you?”
Laura bowed with all the stiffness of which a young back is capable.
She saw an old grey-haired priest, with a round face and a pair of
chubby hands, which he constantly held crossed or clasped upon his
breast. His long irregular-mouth seemed to fold over at the corners
above his very small and childish chin. The mouth and the light blue
eyes wore an expression of rather mincing gentleness. His short figure,
though bent a little with years, was still vigorous, and his gait quick
He addressed Miss Fountain with a lisping and rather obsequious
politeness, asking a great many unnecessary questions about her journey
and her arrival.
Laura answered coldly. But when he passed to Mrs. Fountain,
Augustina was all effusion.
“When I think what has been granted to us since I was here last!”
she said to the priest as they moved on,—clasping her hands, and
“The dear Bishop took such trouble about it,” he said in a little
murmuring voice. “It was not easy—but the Church loves to content her
Involuntarily Laura glanced at Helbeck.
“My sister refers to the permission which has been granted to us to
reserve the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel,” he said gravely. “It is a
privilege we never enjoyed till last year.”
Laura made no reply.
“Shall I slip away?” she thought, looking round her.
But at that moment Mr. Helbeck lifted the heavy latch of the chapel
door; and her young curiosity was too strong for her. She followed the
Mr. Helbeck held the door open for her.
“You will perhaps care to look at the frescoes,” he said to her as
she hurried past him. She nodded, and walked quickly away to the left,
by herself. Then she turned and looked about her.
It was the first time that she had entered a Catholic church, and
every detail was new to her. She watched the other three sign
themselves with holy water and drop low on one knee before the altar.
So that was the altar. She stared at it with a scornful repugnance; yet
her pulse quickened as though what she saw excited her. What was that
erection above it, with a veil of red silk drawn round it—and why was
that lamp burning in front of it?
She recalled Mr. Helbeck's words—“permission to reserve the Blessed
Sacrament.” Then, in a flash, a hundred vague memories, the deposit of
a hearsay knowledge, enlightened her. She knew and remembered much less
than any ordinary girl would have done. But still, in the main, she
guessed at what was passing. That of course was the Sacrament, before
which Mr. Helbeck and the others were kneeling!—for instinctively she
felt that it was to no empty shrine the adoration of those silent
figures was being offered.
Fragments from Augustina's talk at Folkestone came back to her. Once
she had overheard some half-whispered conversation between her
stepmother and a Catholic friend, from which she had vaguely understood
that the “Blessed Sacrament” was kept in the Catholic churches, was
always there, and that the faithful “visited” it—that these “visits"
were indeed specially recommended as a means to holiness. And she
recalled how, as they came home from their daily walk to the beach,
Mrs. Fountain would disappear from her, through the shadowy door of a
Catholic church that stood in the same street as their lodgings—how
she would come home half an hour afterwards, shaken with fresh ardours,
But how could such a thing be allowed, be possible, in a private
chapel—in a room that was really part of a private house? GOD—the
Christ of Calvary—in that gilt box, upon that altar!
The young girl's arms fell by her side in a sudden rigidity. A wave
of the most passionate repulsion swept through her. What a gross, what
an intolerable superstition!—how was she to live with it, beside it?
The next instant it was as though her hand clasped her
father's—clinging to him proudly, against this alien world. Why should
she feel lonely?—the little heretic, left standing there alone in her
distant corner. Let her rather rejoice that she was her father's
She drew herself up, and coolly looked about her. The worshippers
had risen; long as the time had seemed to Laura, they had only been two
or three minutes on their knees; and she could see that Augustina was
talking eagerly to her brother, pointing now to the walls, now to the
It seemed as though Augustina were no less astonished than her
stepdaughter by the magnificence of the chapel. Was it all new,—the
frescoes, the altar with its marble and its gold, the white figure of
the Virgin, which gleamed above the small side-altar to the left? It
had the air of newness and of costliness, an air which struck the eye
all the more sharply because of the contrast between it and the penury,
the starvation, of the great house that held the chapel in its breast.
But while Laura was still wondering at the general impression of
rich beauty, at the Lenten purple of the altar, at the candelabra, and
the perfume, certain figures and colours on the wall close to her
seized her, thrusting the rest aside. On either side of the altar, the
walls to right and left, from the entrance up to the sanctuary, were
covered with what appeared to be recent painting—painting, indeed,
that was still in the act. On either hand, long rows of life-sized
saints, men and women, turned their adoring faces towards the Christ
looking down upon them from a crucifix above the tabernacle. On the
north wall, about half the row was unfinished; faces, haloes, drapery,
strongly outlined in red, still waited for the completing hand of the
artist. The rest glowed and burned with colour—colour the most
singular, the most daring. The carnations and rose colours, the golds
and purples, the blues and lilacs and greens—in the whole concert of
tone, in spite of its general simplicity of surface, there was
something at once ravishing and troubling, something that spoke as it
were from passion to passion.
Laura's nature felt the thrill of it at once, just as she had felt
the thrill of the sunshine lighting up the tapestry of her room.
“Why isn't it crude and hideous?” she asked herself, in a marvel.
“But it isn't. One never saw such blues—except in the sea—or such
greens—and rose! And the angels between!—and the flowers under their
feet!—Heavens! how lovely! Who did it?”
“Do you admire the frescoes?” said a little voice behind her.
She turned hastily, and saw Father Bowles smiling upon her, his
plump white hands clasped in front of him, as usual. It was an attitude
which seemed to make the simplest words sound intimate and possessive.
Laura shrank from, it in quick annoyance.
“They are very strange, and—and startling,” she said stiffly,
moving as far away from the grey-haired priest as possible. “Who
“Mr. Helbeck first designed them. But they were carried out for a
time by a youth of great genius.” Father Bowles dwelt softly upon the
word “ge-nius,” as though he loved it. “He was once a lad from
these parts, but has now become a Jesuit. So the work was stopped.”
“What a pity!” said Laura impetuously. “He ought to have been a
The priest smiled, and made her an odd little bow. Then, without
saying anything more about the artist, he chattered on about the
frescoes and the chapel, as though he had beside him the most
sympathetic of listeners. Nothing that he said was the least
interesting or striking; and Laura, in a passion of silent dislike,
kept up a steady movement towards the door all the time.
In the passage outside Mrs. Fountain was lingering alone. And when
Laura appeared she caught hold of her stepdaughter and detained her
while the priest passed on. Laura looked at her in surprise, and Mrs.
Fountain, in much agitation, whispered in the girl's ear:
“Oh, Laura—do remember, dear!—don't ask Alan about those
pictures—those frescoes—by young Williams. I can tell you some
time—and you might say something to hurt him—poor Alan!”
Laura drew herself away.
“Why should I say anything to hurt him? What's the mystery?”
“I can't tell you now”—Mrs. Fountain looked anxiously towards the
hall. “People have been so hard on Alan—so unkind about it!
It's been a regular persecution. And you wouldn't understand—wouldn't
“I really don't care to know about it, Augustina! And I'm so
hungry—famished! Look, there's Mr. Helbeck signing to us. Joy!—that's
* * * * *
Laura expected the midday meal with some curiosity. But she saw no
signs of austerity. Mr. Helbeck pressed the roast chicken on Father
Bowles, took pains that he should enjoy a better bottle of wine than
usual, and as to himself ate and drank very moderately indeed, but like
anybody else. Laura could only imagine that it was not seemly to outdo
The meal of course was served in the simplest way, and all the
waiting was done by Mr. Helbeck, who would allow nobody to help him in
The conversation dragged. Laura and her host talked a little about
the country and the weather. Father Bowles and Augustina tried to pick
up the dropped threads of thirteen years; and Mrs. Fountain was
alternately eager for Whinthorpe gossip, or reduced to an abrupt
unhappy silence by some memory of the past.
Suddenly Father Bowles got up from his chair, ran across the room to
the window with his napkin in his hand, and pounced eagerly upon a fly
that was buzzing on the pane. Then he carefully opened the window, and
flicked the dead thing off the sill.
“I beg your pardon,” he said humbly to Mrs. Fountain as he returned
to his seat. “It was a nasty fly. I can't abide 'em. I always think of
Beelzebub, who was the prince of the flies.”
Laura's mouth twitched with laughter. She promised herself to make a
study of Father Bowles.
And, indeed, he was a character in his own small way. He was a
priest of an old-fashioned type, with no pretensions to knowledge or to
manners. Wherever he went he was a meek and accommodating guest, for
his recollection went back to days when a priest coming to a private
house to say Mass would as likely as not have his meals in the pantry.
And he was naturally of a gentle and yielding temper—though rather
But he had several tricks as curious as they were persistent. Not
even the presence of his bishop could make him spare a bluebottle. And
he had, on the other hand, a peculiar passion for the smell of wax. He
would blow out a candle on the altar before the end of Mass that he
might enjoy the smell of it. He disliked Jesuits, and religious
generally, if the truth were known; excepting only the orphanage nuns,
who knew his weaknesses and were kind to them. He had no love for
modern innovations, or modern devotions; there was a hidden Gallican
strain in him; and he firmly believed that in the old days before
Catholic emancipation, and before the Oxford movement, the Church made
more converts than she did now.
* * * * *
Towards the end of the lunch Laura inquired of Mr. Helbeck whether
any conveyance was to be got in the village.
“I wish to go to Browhead Farm this afternoon,” she said rather
“Certainly,” said Helbeck. “Certainly. I will see that something is
found for you.”
But his voice had no cordiality, and Laura at once thought him
“Oh, pray don't give yourself any trouble,” she said, flushing, “I
can walk to the village.”
“If you could wait till to-morrow,” he said after a moment, “I could
promise you the pony. Unfortunately he is busy this afternoon.”
“Oh, do wait, Laura!” cried Augustina. “There is so much unpacking
“Very well,” said the girl unwillingly.
As she turned away from him Helbeck's look followed her. She was in
a dress of black serge, which followed the delicate girlish frame with
perfect simplicity, and was relieved at the neck and wrists with the
plainest of white collars and cuffs. But there was something so
brilliant in the hair, so fawnlike in the carriage of the head, that
she seemed to Helbeck to be all elegance; had he been asked to describe
her, he would have said she was in grande toilette. Little as he
spoke to her, he found himself perpetually conscious of her. Her
evident—childishly evident—dislike of her new surroundings half
amused, half embarrassed him. He did not know what topic to start with
her; soon, perhaps, he might have a difficulty in keeping the peace! It
was all very absurd.
After luncheon they gathered in the hall for a while, Father Bowles
talking eagerly with Helbeck and Augustina about “orphans” and “new
buildings.” Laura stood apart awhile—then went for her hat.
When she reappeared, in walking dress—with Fricka at her
heels—Helbeck opened the heavy outer door for her.
“May I have Bruno?” she said.
Helbeck turned and whistled.
“You are not afraid?” he said, smiling, and looking at Fricka.
“Oh, dear no! I spent an hour this morning introducing them.”
At that moment Bruno came bounding up. He looked from his master to
Laura in her hat, and seemed to hesitate. Then, as she descended the
steps, he sprang after her. Laura began to run; the two dogs leapt
about her; her light voice, checking or caressing, came back to Helbeck
on the spring wind. He watched her and her companions so long as they
were in sight—the golden hair among the trees, the dancing steps of
the girl, the answering frolic of the dogs.
Then he turned back to his sister, his grave mouth twitching.
“How thankful she is to get rid of us!”
He laughed out. The priest laughed, too, more softly.
“It was the first time, I presume, that Miss Fountain had ever been
within a Catholic church?” he said to Augustina.
“Of course it is the first time. Oh! Alan, you can't think how
strange it is to her.”
She looked rather piteously at her brother.
“So I perceive,” he said. “You told me something, but I had not
“You see, Alan—” cried Augustina, watching her brother's face,—“it
was with the greatest difficulty that her mother got Stephen to consent
even to her being baptized. He opposed it for a long time.”
Father Bowles murmured something under his breath.
Helbeck paused for a moment, then said:
“What was her mother like?”
“Everyone at Cambridge used to say she was 'a sweet woman'—but—but
Stephen,—well, you know, Alan, Stephen always had his way! I always
wonder she managed to persuade him about the baptism.”
She coloured still more deeply as she spoke, and her nervous
infirmity became more pronounced. Alas! it was not only with the first
wife that Stephen had had his way! Her own marriage had begun to seem
to her a mere sinful connection. Poor soul—poor Augustina!
Her brother must have divined something of what was passing in her
mind, for he looked down upon her with a peculiar gentleness.
“People are perhaps more ready to talk of that responsibility than
to take it,” he said kindly. “But, Augustina,—” his voice
changed,—“how pretty she is!—You hardly prepared me——”
Father Bowles modestly cast down his eyes. These were not questions
that concerned him. But Helbeck went on, speaking with decision, and
looking at his sister:
“I confess—her great attractiveness makes me a little
anxious—about the connection with the Masons. Have you ever seen any
of them, Augustina?”
No—Augustina had seen none of them. She believed Stephen had
particularly disliked the mother, the widow of his cousin, who now
owned the farm jointly with her son.
“Well, no,” said Helbeck dryly, “I don't suppose he and she would
have had much in common.”
“Isn't she a dreadful Protestant—Alan?”
“Oh, she's just a specimen of the ordinary English Bible-worship run
mad,” he said, carelessly. “She is a strange woman, very well known
about here. And there's a foolish parson living near them, up in the
hills, who makes her worse. But it's the son I'm thinking of.”
“Why, Alan—isn't he respectable?”
“Not particularly. He's a splendid athletic fellow—doing his best
to make himself a blackguard, I'm afraid. I've come across him once or
twice, as it happens. He's not a desirable cousin for Miss
Fountain—that I can vouch for! And unluckily,” he smiled, “Miss
Fountain won't hear any good of this house at Browhead Farm.”
Even Augustina drew herself up proudly.
“My dear Alan, what does it matter what that sort of people think?”
He shook his head.
“It's a queer business. They were mixed up with young Williams.”
“Mrs. Mason was a great friend of his mother, who died. They hate me
like poison. However——”
The priest interposed.
“Mrs. Mason is a very violent, a most unseemly woman,” he said, in
his mincing voice. “And the father—the old man—who is now dead, was
concerned in the rioting near the bridge——”
“When Alan was struck? Mrs. Denton told me! How abominable!”
Augustina raised her hands in mingled reprobation and distress.
Helbeck looked annoyed.
“That doesn't matter one brass farthing,” he said, in some haste.
“Father Bowles was much worse treated than I on that occasion. But you
see the whole thing is unlucky—it makes it difficult to give Miss
Fountain the hints one would like to give her.”
He threw himself down beside his sister, talking to her in low
tones. Father Bowles took up the local paper.
Presently Augustina broke out—with another wringing of the hands.
“Don't put it on me, my dear Alan! I tell you—Laura has always done
exactly what she liked since she was a baby.”
Mr. Helbeck rose. His face and air already expressed a certain
haughtiness; and at his sister's words there was a very definite
tightening of the shoulders.
“I do not intend to have Hubert Mason hanging about the house,” he
said quietly, as he thrust his hands into his pockets.
“Of course not!—but she wouldn't expect it,” cried Augustina in
dismay. “It's the keeping her away from them, that's the difficulty.
She thinks so much of her cousins, Alan. They're her father's only
relations. I know she'll want to be with them half her time!”
“For love of them—or dislike of us? Oh! I dare say it will be all
right,” he added abruptly. “Father Bowles, shall I drive you half-way?
The pony will be round directly.”
It was a Sunday morning—bright and windy. Miss Fountain was driving
a shabby pony through the park of Bannisdale—driving with a haste and
glee that sent the little cart spinning down the road.
Six hours—she calculated—till she need see Bannisdale again. Her
cousins would ask her to dinner and to tea. Augustina and Mr. Helbeck
might have all their Sunday antics to themselves. There were several
priests coming to luncheon—and a function in the chapel that
afternoon. Laura flicked the pony sharply as she thought of it. Seven
miles between her and it? Joy!
Nevertheless, she did not get rid of the old house and its
suggestions quite as easily as she wished. The park and the river had
many windings. Again and again the grey gabled mass thrust itself upon
her attention, recalling each time, against her will, the face of its
A high brow—hollows in the temples, deep hollows in the
cheeks—pale blue eyes—a short and pointed beard, greyish-black like
the hair—the close whiskers black, too, against the skin—a general
impression of pallor, dark lines, strong shadows, melancholy force—
She burst out laughing.
A pose!—nothing in the world but a pose. There was a wretched
picture of Charles I. in the dining-room—a daub “after” some famous
thing, she supposed—all eyes and hair, long face, and lace collar. Mr.
Helbeck was “made up” to that—she was sure of it. He had found out the
likeness, and improved upon it. Oh! if one could only present him with
the collar and blue ribbon complete!
“—Cut his head off, and have done with him!” she said aloud,
whipping up the pony, and laughing at her own petulance.
Who could live in such a house—such an atmosphere?
As she drove along, her mind was all in a protesting whirl. On her
return from her walk with the dogs the day before, she had found a
service going on in the chapel, Father Bowles officiating, and some
figures in black gowns and white-winged coifs assisting. She had fled
to her own room, but when she came down again, the black-garbed
“Sisters” were still there, and she had been introduced to them. Ugh!
what manners! Must one always, if one was a Catholic, make that
cloying, hypocritical impression? “Three of them kissed me,” she
reminded herself, in a quiver of wrath.
They were Sisters from the orphanage apparently, or one of the
orphanages, and there had been endless talk of new buildings and money,
while she, Laura, sat dumb in her corner looking at old photographs of
the house. Helbeck, indeed, had not talked much. While the black women
were chattering with Augustina and Father Bowles, he had stood, mostly
silent, under the picture of his great-grandmother, only breaking
through his reverie from time to time to ask or answer a question. Was
he pondering the sale of the great-grandmother, or did he simply know
that his silence and aloofness were picturesque, that they compelled
other people's attention, and made him the centre of things more
effectively than more ordinary manners could have done? In recalling
him the girl had an impatient sense of something commanding; of
something, moreover, that held herself under observation. “One thinks
him shy at first, or awkward—nothing of the sort! He is as proud as
Lucifer. Very soon one sees that he is just looking out for his own way
“And as for temper!——”
After the Sisters departed, a young architect had appeared at
supper. A point of difference had arisen between him and Mr. Helbeck.
He was to be employed, it appeared, in the enlargement of this blessed
orphanage. Mr. Helbeck, no doubt, with a view to his pocket—to do him
justice, there seemed to be no other pocket concerned than his—was of
opinion that certain existing buildings could be made use of in the new
scheme. The architect—a nervous young fellow, with awkward manners,
and the ambitions of an artist—thought not, and held his own,
insistently. The discussion grew vehement. Suddenly Helbeck lost his
“Mr. Munsey! I must ask you to give more weight, if you please, to
my wishes in this matter! They may be right or wrong—but it would save
time, perhaps, if we assumed that they would prevail.”
The note of anger in the voice made every one look up. The Squire
stood erect a moment; crumpled in his hand a half-sheet of paper on
which young Munsey had been making some calculations, and flung it into
the fire. Augustina sat cowering. The young man himself turned white,
bowed, and said nothing. While Father Bowles, of course, like the old
tabby that he was, had at once begun to purr conciliation.
“Would I have stood meek and mum if I'd been the young man!”
thought Laura. “Would I! Oh! if I'd had the chance! And he should not
have made up so easily, either.”
For she remembered, also, how, after Father Bowles was gone, she had
come in from the garden to find Mr. Helbeck and the architect pacing
the long hall together, on what seemed to be the friendliest of terms.
For nearly an hour, while she and Augustina sat reading over the fire,
the colloquy went on.
Helbeck's tones then were of the gentlest; the young man too spoke
low and eagerly, pressing his plans. And once when Laura looked up from
her book, she had seen Helbeck's arm resting for a moment on the young
fellow's shoulder. Oh! no doubt Mr. Helbeck could make himself
agreeable when he chose—and struggling architects must put up with the
tempers of their employers.
All the more did Miss Fountain like to think that the Squire could
compel no court from her.
She recalled that when Mr. Munsey had said good-night, and they
three were alone in the firelit hall, Helbeck had come to stand beside
her. He had looked down upon her with an air which was either kindness
or weariness; he had been willing—even, she thought, anxious to talk
with her. But she did not mean to be first trampled on, then
patronised, like the young man. So Mr. Helbeck had hardly begun—with
that occasional timidity which sat so oddly on his dark and strong
physique—to speak to her of the two Sisters of Charity who had been
his guests in the afternoon, when she abruptly discovered it was time
to say good-night. She winced a little as she remembered the sudden
stiffening of his look, the careless touch of his hand.
* * * * *
The day was keen and clear. A nipping wind blew beneath the bright
sun, and the opening buds had a parched and hindered look. But to Laura
the air was wine, and the country all delight. She was mounting the
flank of a hill towards a straggling village. Straight along the face
of the hill lay her road, past the villages and woods that clothed the
hill slope, till someone should show her the gate beyond which lay the
rough ascent to Browhead Farm.
Above her, now, to her right, rose a craggy fell with great screes
plunging sheer down into the woods that sheltered the village; below,
in the valley-plain, stretched the purples and greens of the moss; the
rivers shone in the sun as they came speeding from the mountains to the
sea; and in the far distance the heights of Lakeland made one pageant
with the sun and the clouds—peak after peak thrown blue against the
white, cloud after cloud breaking to show the dappled hills below, in
such a glory of silver and of purple, such a freshness of atmosphere
and light, that mere looking soon became the most thrilling, the most
palpable of joys. Laura's spirits began to sing and soar, with the
larks and the blackcaps!
Then, when the village was gone, came a high stretch of road,
looking down upon the moss and all its bounding fells, which ran out
upon its purple face like capes upon a sea. And these nearer
fields—what were these thick white specks upon the new-made furrows?
Up rose the gulls for answer; and the girl felt the sea-breath from
their dazzling wings, and turned behind her to look for that pale
opening in the south-west through which the rivers passed.
And beyond the fields a wood—such a wood as made Laura's
south-country eyes stand wide with wonder! Out she jumped, tied the
pony's rein to a gate beside the road, and ran into the hazel brushwood
with little cries of pleasure. A Westmoreland wood in daffodil time—it
was nothing more and nothing less. But to this child with the young
passion in her blood, it was a dream, an ecstasy. The golden flowers,
the slim stalks, rose from a mist of greenish-blue, made by their
speary leaf amid the encircling browns and purples, the intricate stem
and branch-work of the still winter-bound hazels. Never were daffodils
in such a wealth before! They were flung on the fell-side through a
score of acres, in sheets and tapestries of gold,—such an audacious,
unreckoned plenty as went strangely with the frugal air and temper of
the northern country, with the bare walled fields, the ruggedness of
the crags above, and the melancholy of the treeless marsh below. And
within this common lavishness, all possible delicacy, all possible
perfection of the separate bloom and tuft—each foot of ground had its
own glory. For below the daffodils there was a carpet of dark violets,
so dim and close that it was their scent first bewrayed them; and as
Laura lay gathering with her face among the flowers, she could see
behind their gold, and between the hazel stems, the light-filled greys
and azures of the mountain distance. Each detail in the happy whole
struck on the girl's eager sense and made there a poem of northern
spring—spring as the fell-country sees it, pure, cold, expectant, with
flashes of a blossoming beauty amid the rocks and pastures, unmatched
for daintiness and joy.
Presently Laura found herself sitting—half crying!—on a mossy
tuft, looking along the wood to the distance. What was it in this
exquisite country that seized upon her so—that spoke to her in this
intimate, this appealing voice?
Why, she was of it—she belonged to it—she felt it in her veins!
Old inherited things leapt within her—or it pleased her to think so.
It was as though she stretched out her arms to the mountains and
fields, crying to them, “I am not a stranger—draw me to you—my life
sprang from yours!” A host of burning and tender thoughts ran through
her. Their first effect was to remind her of the farm and of her
cousins; and she sprang up, and went back to the cart.
On they rattled again, downhill through the wood, and up on the
further side—still always on the edge of the moss. She loved the
villages, and their medley of grey houses wedged among the rocks; she
loved the stone farms with their wide porches, and the white splashes
on their grey fronts; she loved the tufts of fern in the wall crannies,
the limestone ribs and bonework of the land breaking everywhere through
the pastures, the incomparable purples of the woods, and the first
brave leafing of the larches and the sycamores. Never had she so given
her heart to any new world; and through her delight flashed the sorest,
tenderest thoughts of her father. “Oh! papa—oh, papa!” she said to
herself again and again in a little moan. Every day perhaps he had
walked this road as a child, and she could still see herself as a
child, in a very dim vision, trotting beside him down the Browhead
Road. She turned at last into the fell-gate to which a passing boy
directed her, with a long breath that was almost a sob.
She had given them no notice; but surely, surely they would be glad
to see her!
They? She tried to split up the notion, to imagine the three
people she was going to see. Cousin Elizabeth—the mother? Ah! she knew
her, for they had never liked Cousin Elizabeth. She herself could dimly
remember a hard face; an obstinate voice raised in discussion with her
father. Yet it was Cousin Elizabeth who was the Fountain born, who had
carried the little family property as her dowry to her husband James
Mason. For the grandfather had been free to leave it as he chose, and
on the death of his eldest son—who had settled at the farm after his
marriage, and taken the heavy work of it off his father's
shoulders—the old man had passionately preferred to leave it to the
strong, capable granddaughter, who was already provided with a lover,
who understood the land, moreover, and could earn and “addle” as he
did, rather than to his bookish milksop of a second son, so richly
provided for already, in his father's contemptuous opinion, by the
small government post at Newcastle.
“Let us always thank God, Laura, that my grandfather was a brute to
yours!” Stephen Fountain would say to his girl on the rare occasions
when he could be induced to speak of his family at all. “But for that I
might be a hedger and ditcher to this day.”
Well, but Cousin Elizabeth's children? Laura herself had some vague
remembrance of them. As the pony climbed the steep lane she shut her
eyes and tried hard to recall them. The fair-haired boy—rather fat and
masterful—who had taken her to find the eggs of a truant hen in a
hedge behind the house—and had pushed her into a puddle on the way
home because she had broken one? Then the girl, the older girl Polly,
who had cleaned her shoes for her, and lent her a pinafore? No! Laura
opened her eyes again—it was no good straining to remember. Too many
years had rolled between that early visit and her present self—years
during which there had been no communication of any sort between
Stephen Fountain and his cousins.
Why had Augustina been so trying and tiresome about the Masons?
Instead of flying to her cousins on the earliest possible opportunity,
here was a whole fortnight gone since her arrival, and it was not till
this Sunday morning that Laura had been able to achieve her visit.
Augustina had been constantly ailing or fretful; either unwilling to be
left alone, or possessed by absurd desires for useless trifles, only to
be satisfied by Laura's going to shop in Whinthorpe. And such
melancholy looks whenever the Masons were mentioned—coupled with so
formal a silence on Mr. Helbeck's part! What did it all mean? No doubt
her relations were vulgar, low-born folk!—but she did not ask Mr.
Helbeck or her stepmother to entertain them. At last there had been a
passage of arms between her and her stepmother. Perhaps Mr. Helbeck had
overheard it, for immediately afterwards he had emerged from his study
into the hall, where she and Augustina were sitting.
“Miss Fountain—may I ask—do you wish to be sent into Whinthorpe on
She had fronted him at once.
“No, thank you, Mr. Helbeck. I don't go to church—I never did with
Had she been defiant? He surely had been stiff.
“Then, perhaps you would like the pony—for your visit? He is quite
at your service for the day. Would that suit you?”
* * * * *
So here she was—at last!—climbing up and up into the heart of the
fells. The cloud-pageant round the high mountains, the valley with its
flashing streams, its distant sands, and widening sea—she had risen as
it seemed above them all; they lay beneath her in a map-like unity. She
could have laughed and sung out of sheer physical joy in the dancing
air—in the play of the cloud gleams and shadows as they swept across
her, chased by the wind. All about her the little mountain sheep were
feeding in the craggy “intaks” or along the edges of the tiny tumbling
streams; and at intervals amid the reds and yellows of the still wintry
grass rose great wind-beaten hollies, sharp and black against the blue
distance, marching beside her, like scattered soldiers, up the height.
Not a house to be seen, save on the far slopes of distant hills—not
a sound, but the chink of the stone-chat, or the fall of lonely water.
Soon the road, after its long ascent, began to dip; a few trees
appeared in a hollow, then a gate and some grey walls.
Laura jumped from the cart. Beyond the gate, the road turned
downward a little, and a great block of barns shut the farmhouse from
view till she was actually upon it.
But there it was at last—the grey, roughly built house, that she
still vaguely remembered, with the whitewashed porch, the stables and
cowsheds opposite, the little garden to the side, the steep fell
She stood with her hand on the pony, looking at the house in some
perplexity. Not a soul apparently had heard her coming. Nothing moved
in the farmhouse or outside it. Was everybody at church? But it was
nearly one o'clock.
The door under the deep porch had no knocker, and she looked in vain
for a bell. All she could do was to rap sharply with the handle of her
No answer. She rapped again—louder and louder. At last in the
intervals of knocking, she became conscious of a sound
within—something deep and continuous, like the buzzing of a gigantic
She put her ear to the door, listening. Then all her face dissolved
in laughter. She raised her arm and brought the whip-handle down
noisily on the old blistered door, so that it shook again.
There was a sudden sound of chairs overturned, or dragged along a
flagged floor. Then staggering steps—and the door was opened.
“I say—what's all this—what are you making such a damned noise
Inside stood a stalwart young man, still half asleep, and drawing
his hand irritably across his blinking eyes.
“How do you do, Mr. Mason?”
The young man drew himself together with a start. Suddenly he
perceived that the young girl standing in the shade of the porch was
not his sister, but a stranger. He looked at her with astonishment,—at
the elegance of her dress, and the neatness of her small gloved hand.
“I beg your pardon, Miss, I'm sure! Did you want anything?”
The visitor laughed. “Yes, I want a good deal! I came up to see my
cousins—you're my cousin—though of course you don't remember me. I
thought—perhaps—you'd ask me to dinner.”
The young man's yawns ceased. He stared with all his eyes,
instinctively putting his hair and collar straight.
“Well, I'm afraid I don't know who you are, Miss,” he said at last,
putting out his hand in perplexity to meet hers. “Will you walk in?”
“Not before you know who I am!”—said Laura, still laughing—“I'm
Laura Fountain. Now do you know?”
“What—Stephen Fountain's daughter—as married Miss Helbeck?” said
the young man in wonder. His face, which had been at first vague and
heavy with sleep, began to recover its natural expression.
Laura surveyed him. He had a square, full chin and an upper lip
slightly underhung. His straight fair hair straggled loose over his
brow. He carried his head and shoulders well, and was altogether a
finely built, rather magnificent young fellow, marred by a general
expression that was half clumsy, half insolent.
“That's it,” she said, in answer to his question—“I'm staying at
Bannisdale, and I came up to see you all.—Where's Cousin Elizabeth?”
“Mother, do you mean?—Oh! she's at church.”
“Why aren't you there, too?”
He opened his blue eyes, taken aback by the cool clearness of her
“Well, I can't abide the parson—if you want to know. Shall I put up
“But perhaps you've not had your sleep out?” said Laura, politely
He reddened, and came forward with a slow and rather shambling gait.
“I don't know what else there is to do up here of a Sunday morning,”
he said, with a boyish sulkiness, as he began to lead the pony towards
the stables opposite. “Besides, I was up half the night seeing to one
of the cows.”
“You don't seem to have many neighbours,” said Laura, as she walked
“There's rooks and crows” (which he pronounced
broadly—“craws")—“not much else, I can tell you. Shall I take the
“Please. I'm afraid you'll have to put up with me for hours!”
She looked at him merrily, and he returned the scrutiny. She wore
the same thin black dress in which Helbeck had admired her the day
before, and above it a cloth jacket and cap, trimmed with brown fur.
Mason was dazzled a moment by the milky whiteness of the cheek above
the fur, by the brightness of the eyes and hair; then was seized with
fresh shyness, and became extremely busy with the pony.
“Mother'll be back in about an hour,” he said gruffly.
“Goodness! what'll you do with me till then?”
They both laughed, he with an embarrassment that annoyed him. He was
not at all accustomed to find himself at a disadvantage with a
“There's a good fire in the house, anyway,” he said; “you'll want to
warm yourself, I should think, after driving up here.”
“Oh! I'm not cold—I say, what jolly horses!”
For Mason had thrown open the large worm-eaten door of the stables,
and inside could be seen the heads and backs of two cart-horses, huge,
majestic creatures, who were peering over the doors of their stalls, as
though they had been listening to the conversation.
Their owner glanced at them indifferently.
“Aye, they're not bad. We bred 'em three years ago, and they've
taken more'n one prize already. I dare say old Daffady, now, as looks
after them, would be sorry to part with them.”
“I dare say he would. But why should he part with them?”
The young man hesitated. He was shaking down a load of hay for the
pony, and Laura was leaning against the door of the stall watching his
“Well, I reckon we shan't be farmin here all our lives,” he said at
last with some abruptness.
“Don't you like it then?”
“I'd get quit on it to-morrow if I could!”
His quick reply had an emphasis that astonished her.
“And your mother?”
“Oh! of course it's mother keeps me at it,” he said, relapsing into
the same accent of a sulky child that he had used once before.
Then he led his new cousin back to the farmhouse. By this time he
was beginning to find his tongue and use his eyes. Laura was conscious
that she was being closely observed, and that by a man who was by no
means indifferent to women. She said to herself that she would try to
keep him shy.
As they entered the farmhouse kitchen Mason hastened to pick up the
chairs he had overturned in his sudden waking.
“I say, mother would be mad if she knew you'd come into this scrow!”
he said with vexation, kicking aside some sporting papers that were
littered over the floors, and bringing forward a carved oak chair with
a cushion to place it before the fire for her acceptance.
“Scrow? What's that?” said Laura, lifting her eyebrows. “Oh, please
don't tidy any more. I really think you make it worse. Besides, it's
all right. What a dear old kitchen!”
She had seated herself in the cushioned chair, and was warming a
slender foot at the fire. Mason wished she would take off her hat—it
hid her hair. But he could not flatter himself that she was in the
least occupied with what he wished. Her attention was all given to her
surroundings—to the old raftered room, with its glowing fire and
Bright as the April sun was outside, it hardly penetrated here.
Through the mellow dusk, as through the varnish of an old picture, one
saw the different objects in a golden light and shade—the brass
warming-pan hanging beside the tall eight-day clock—the table in front
of the long window-seat, covered with its checked red cloth—the carved
door of a cupboard in the wall bearing the date 1679—the miscellaneous
store of things packed away under the black rafters, dried herbs and
tools, bundles of list and twine, the spindles of old spinning wheels,
cattle-medicines, and the like—the heavy oaken chairs—the settle
beside the fire, with its hard cushions and scrolled back. It was a
room for winter, fashioned by the needs of winter. By the help of that
great peat fire, built up year by year from the spoils of the moss a
thousand feet below, generations of human beings had fought with snow
and storm, had maintained their little polity there on the heights,
self-centred, self-supplied. Across the yard, commanded by the window
of the farm-kitchen, lay the rude byres where the cattle were prisoned
from October to April. The cattle made the wealth of the farm, and
there must be many weeks when the animals and their masters were shut
in together from the world outside by wastes of snow.
Laura shut her eyes an instant, imagining the goings to and fro—the
rising on winter dawns to feed the stock; the shepherd on the
fell-side, wrestling with sleet and tempest; the returns at night to
food and fire. Her young fancy, already played on by the breath of the
mountains, warmed to the farmhouse and its primitive life. Here surely
was something more human—more poetic even—than the tattered splendour
She opened her eyes wide again, as though in defiance, and saw
Hubert Mason looking at her.
Instinctively she sat up straight, and drew her foot primly under
the shelter of her dress.
“I was thinking of what it must be in winter,” she said hurriedly.
“I know I should like it.”
“What, this place?” He gave a rough laugh. “I don't see what for,
then. It's bad enough in summer. In winter it's fit to make you cut
your throat. I say, where are you staying?”
“Why, at Bannisdale!” said Laura in surprise. “You knew my
stepmother was still living, didn't you?”
“Well, I didn't think aught about it,” he said, falling into
candour, because the beauty of her grey eyes, now that they were fixed
fair and full upon him, startled him out of his presence of mind.
“I wrote to you—to Cousin Elizabeth—when my father died,” she said
simply, rather proudly, and the eyes were removed from him.
“Aye—of course you did,” he said in haste. “But mother's never yan
to talk aboot letters. And you haven't dropped us a line since, have
you?” he added, almost with timidity.
“No. I thought I'd surprise you. We've been a fortnight at
His face flushed and darkened.
“Then you've been a fortnight in a queer place!” he said with a
sudden, almost a violent change of tone. “I wonder you can bide so long
under that man's roof!”
“Do you mean because he disliked my father?”
“Oh, I don't know nowt about that!” He paused. His young face was
crimson, his eyes angry and sinister. “He's a snake—is
Helbeck!” he said slowly, striking his hands together as they hung over
Laura recoiled—instinctively straightening herself.
“Mr. Helbeck is quite kind to me,” she said sharply. “I don't know
why you speak of him like that. I'm staying there till my stepmother
He stared at her, still red and obstinate.
“Helbeck an his house together stick in folk's gizzards aboot here,”
he said. “Yo'll soon find that oot. And good reason too. Did you ever
hear of Teddy Williams?”
“Williams?” she said, frowning. “Was that the man that painted the
Mason laughed and slapped his knee.
“Man, indeed? He was just a lad—down at Marsland School. I was
there myself, you understand, the year after him. He was an awful
clever lad—beat every one at books—an he could draw anything. You
couldn't mak' much oot of his drawins, I daur say—they were queer
sorts o' things. I never could make head or tail on 'em myself. But old
Jackson, our master, thowt a lot of 'em, and so did the passon down at
Marsland. An his father an mother—well, they thowt he was going to
make all their fortunes for 'em. There was a scholarship—or soomthin
o' that sort—an he was to get it an go to college, an make 'em all
rich. They were just common wheelwrights, you understand, down on t'
Whinthorpe Road. But my word, Mr. Helbeck spoilt their game for 'em!”
He lifted another sod of turf from the basket and flung it on the
fire. The animus of his tone and manner struck Laura oddly. But she was
at least as curious to hear as he was anxious to tell. She drew her
chair a little nearer to him.
“What did Mr. Helbeck do?”
“Well, he just made a Papist of Teddy—took him an done him—brown.
He got hold on him in the park one evening—Teddy was drawing a picture
of the bridge, you understand—'ticed him up to his place soomhow—an
Teddy was set to a job of paintin up at the chapel before you could say
Jack Robinson. An in six months they'd settled it between 'em. Teddy
wouldn't go to school no more. And one night he and his father had
words; the owd man gie'd him a thrashing, and Teddy just cut and run.
Next thing they heard he was at a Papist school, somewhere over
Lancashire way, an he sent word to his mother—she was dyin then, you
understan'—and she's dead since—that he'd gone to be a priest, an if
they didn't like it, they might just do the other thing!”
“And the mother died?” said Laura.
“Aye—double quick! My mother went down to nurse her. An they sent
Teddy back, just too late to see her. He come in two-three hours after
they'd screwed her down. An his father chivvyed him oot—they wouldn't
have him at the funeral. But folks were a deal madder with Mr. Helbeck,
you understan', nor with Teddy. Teddy's father and brothers are chapel
folk—Primitive Methodists they call 'em. They've got a big chapel in
Whinthorpe—an they raised the whole place on Mr. Helbeck, and one
night, coming out of Whinthorpe, he was set on by a lot of fellows,
chapel fellows, a bit fresh, you understan'. Father was there—he never
denied it—not he! Helbeck just got into the old mill by the bridge in
time, but they'd marked his face for him all the same.”
“Ah!” said Laura, staring into the fire. She had just remembered a
dark scar on Mr. Helbeck's forehead, under the strong ripples of black
hair. “Go on—do!”
“Oh! afterwards there was a lot of men bound over—father among 'em.
There was a priest with Mr. Helbeck who got it hot too—that old chap
Bowles—I dare say you've seen him. Aye, he's a snake, is
Helbeck!” the young man repeated. Then he reddened still more deeply,
and added with vindictive emphasis—“and an
interfering,—hypocritical,—canting sort of party into t' bargain.
He'd like to lord it over everybody aboot here, if he was let. But he's
as poor as a church rat—who minds him?”
The language was extraordinary—so was the tone. Laura had been
gazing at the speaker in a growing amazement.
“Thank you!” she said impetuously, when Mason stopped. “Thank
you!—but, in spite of your story, I don't think you ought to speak
like that of the gentleman I am staying with!”
Mason threw himself back in his chair. He was evidently trying to
“I didn't mean no offence,” he said at last, with a return of the
sulky voice. “Of course I understand that you're staying with the
quality, and not with the likes of us.”
Laura's face lit up with laughter. “What an extraordinary silly
thing to say! But I don't mind—I'll forgive you—like I did years ago,
when you pushed me into the puddle!”
“I pushed you into a puddle? But—I never did owt o' t' sort!” cried
Mason, in a slow crescendo of astonishment.
“Oh, yes, you did,” she nodded her little head. “I broke an egg, and
you bullied me. Of course I thought you were a horrid boy—and I loved
Polly, who cleaned my shoes and put me straight. Where's Polly, is she
“Aye—I dare say,” said Mason stupidly, watching his visitor
meanwhile with all his eyes. She had just put up a small hand and taken
off her cap. Now, mechanically, she began to pat and arrange the little
curls upon her forehead, then to take out and replace a hairpin or two,
so as to fasten the golden mass behind a little more securely. The
white fingers moved with an exquisite sureness and daintiness, the
lifted arms showed all the young curves of the girl's form.
Suddenly Laura turned to him again. Her eyes had been staring
dreamily into the fire, while her hands had been busy with her hair.
“So you don't remember our visit at all? You don't remember papa?”
He shook his head.
“Ah! well”—she sighed. Mason felt unaccountably guilty.
“I was always terr'ble bad at remembering,” he said hastily.
“But you ought to have remembered papa.” Then, in quite a different
voice, “Is this your sitting-room”—she looked round it—“or—or your
The last words fell rather timidly, lest she might have hurt his
Mason jumped up.
“Why, yon's the parlour,” he said. “I should ha' taken you there
fust thing. Will you coom? I'll soon make a fire.”
And walking across the kitchen, he threw open a further door
ceremoniously. Laura followed, pausing just inside the threshold to
look round the little musty sitting-room, with its framed photographs,
its woollen mats, its rocking-chairs, and its square of
mustard-coloured carpet. Mason watched her furtively all the time, to
see how the place struck her.
“Oh, this isn't as nice as the kitchen,” she said decidedly. “What's
that?” She pointed to a pewter cup standing stately and alone upon the
largest possible wool mat in the centre of a table.
Mason threw back his head and chuckled. His great chest seemed to
fill out; all his sulky constraint dropped away.
“Of course you don't know anythin aboot these parts,” he said to her
with condescension. “You don't know as I came near bein champion for
the County lasst year—no, I'll reckon you don't. Oh! that cup's
nowt—that's nobbut Whinthorpe sports, lasst December. Maybe there'll
be a better there, by-and-by.”
The young giant grinned, as he took up the cup and pointed with
assumed indifference to its inscription.
“What—football?” said Laura, putting up her hand to hide a yawn.
“Oh! I don't care about football. But I love cricket.
Why—you've got a piano—and a new one!”
Mason's face cleared again—in quite another fashion.
“Do you know the maker?” he said eagerly. “I believe he's thowt a
deal of by them as knows. I bought it myself out o' the sheep. The
lambs had done fust-rate,—an I'd had more'n half the trooble of 'em,
ony ways. So I took no heed o' mother. I went down straight to
Whinthrupp, an paid the first instalment an browt it up in the cart
mesel'. Mr. Castle—do yo knaw 'im?—he's the organist at the parish
church—he came with me to choose it.”
“And is it you that play it,” said Laura wondering, “or your
He looked at her in silence for a moment—and she at him. His aspect
seemed to change under her eyes. The handsome points of the face came
out; its coarseness and loutishness receded. And his manner became
suddenly quiet and manly—though full of an almost tremulous eagerness.
“You like it?” she asked him.
“What—music? I should think so.”
“Oh! I forgot—you're all musical in these northern parts, aren't
He made no answer, but sat down to the piano and opened it. She
leant over the back of a chair, watching him, half incredulous, half
“I say—did you ever hear this? I believe it was some Cambridge
fellow made it—Castle said so. He played it to me. And I can't get
further than just a bit of it.”
He raised his great hands and brought them down in a burst of chords
that shook the little room and the raftered ceiling. Laura stared. He
played on—played like a musician, though with occasional
stumbling—played with a mingled energy and delicacy, an understanding
and abandonment that amazed her—then grew crimson with the effort to
“Goodness!”—cried Laura. “Why, that's Stanford's music to the
Eumenides! How on earth did you hear that? Go away. I can play it.”
She pushed him away and sat down. He hung over her, his face smiling
and transformed, while her little hands struggled with the chords,
found the after melody, pursued it,—with pauses now and then, in which
he would strike in, prompting her, putting his hand down with hers—and
finally, after modulations which she made her way through, with
laughter and head-shakings, she fell into a weird dance, to which he
beat time with hands and limbs, urging her with a rain of comments.
“Oh! my goody—isn't that rousing? Play that again—just that
change—just once! Oh! Lord—isn't that good, that chord—and that bit
afterwards, what a bass!—I say, isn't it a bass? Don't you like
it—don't you like it awfully?”
Suddenly she wheeled round from the piano, and sat fronting him, her
hands on her knees. He fell back into a chair.
“I say”—he said slowly—“you are a grand 'un! If I'd only known you
could play like that!”
Her laugh died away. To his amazement she began to frown.
“I haven't played—ten notes—since papa died. He liked it so.”
She, turned her back to him, and began to look at the torn music at
the top of the piano.
“But you will play—you'll play to me again”—he said
beseechingly.—“Why, it would be a sin if you didn't play! Wouldn't I
play if I could play like you! I never had more than a lesson, now and
again, from old Castle. I used to steal mother's eggs to pay him—I can
play any thing I hear—and I've made a song—old Castle's writing it
down—he says he'll teach me to do it some day. But of course I'm no
good for playing—I never shall be any good. Look at those
fingers—they're like bits of stick—beastly things!”
He thrust them out indignantly for her inspection. Laura looked at
them with a professional air.
“I don't call it a bad hand. I expect you've no patience.”
“Haven't I! I tell you I'd play all day, if it'ld do any good—but
“And how about the poor farm?” said Laura, with a lifted brow.
“Oh! the farm—the farm—dang the farm!”—said Mason violently,
slapping his knee.
Suddenly there was a sound of voices outside, a clattering on the
stones of the farmyard.
Mason sprang up, all frowns.
“That's mother. Here, let's shut the piano—quick! She can't abide
Mason went out to meet his mother, and Laura waited. She stood where
she had risen, beside the piano, looking nervously towards the door.
Childish remembrances and alarms seemed to be thronging back into her
There was a noise of voices in the outer room. Then a handle was
roughly turned, and Laura saw before her a short, stout woman, with
grey hair, and the most piercing black eyes. Intimidated by the eyes,
and by the sudden pause of the newcomer on the threshold, Miss Fountain
could only look at her interrogatively.
“Is it Cousin Elizabeth?” she said, holding out a wavering hand.
Mrs. Mason scarcely allowed her own to be touched.
“We're not used to visitors i' church-time,” she said abruptly, in a
deep funereal voice. “Mappen you'll sit down.”
And still holding the girl with her eyes, she walked across to an
old rocking-chair, let herself fall into it, and with a loud sigh
loosened her bonnet strings.
Laura, in her amazement, had to strangle a violent inclination to
laugh. Then she flushed brightly, and sat down on the wooden stool in
front of the piano. Mrs. Mason, still staring at her, seemed to wait
for her to speak. But Laura would say nothing.
“Soa—thoo art Stephen Fountain's dowter—art tha?”
“Yes—and you have seen me before,” was the girl's quiet reply.
She said to herself that her cousin had the eyes of a bird of prey.
So black and fierce they were, in the greyish white face under the
shaggy hair. But she was not afraid. Rather she felt her own temper
“How long is't sen your feyther deed?”
“Nine months. But you knew that, I think—because I wrote it you.”
Mrs. Mason's heavy lids blinked a moment, then she said with slowly
quickening emphasis, like one mounting to a crisis:
“Wat art tha doin' wi' Bannisdale Hall? What call has thy feyther's
dowter to be visitin onder Alan Helbeck's roof?”
Laura's open mouth showed first wonderment, then laughter.
“Oh! I see,” she said impatiently—“you don't seem to understand.
But of course you remember that my father married Miss Helbeck for his
“Aye, an she cam oot fra amang them,” exclaimed Mrs. Mason; “she put
away from her the accursed thing!”
The massive face was all aglow, transformed, with a kind of sombre
fire. Laura stared afresh.
“She gave up being a Catholic, if that's what you mean,” she said
after a moment's pause. “But she couldn't keep to it. When papa fell
ill, and she was unhappy, she went back. And then of course she made it
up with her brother.”
The triumph in Mrs. Mason's face yielded first to astonishment, then
“The poor weak doited thing,” she said at last in a tone of
indescribable contempt, “the poor silly fule! But naebody need ha'
luked for onything betther from a Helbeck.—And I daur say”—she lifted
her voice fiercely—“I daur say she took yo' wi' her, an it's along o'
thattens as yo're coom to spy on us oop here?”
Laura sprang up.
“Me!” she said indignantly. “You think I'm a Catholic and a spy? How
kind of you! But of course you don't know anything about my father, nor
how he brought me up. As for my poor little stepmother, I came here
with her to get her well, and I shall stay with her till she is well. I
really don't know why you talk to me like this. I suppose you have
cause to dislike Mr. Helbeck, but it is very odd that you should visit
it on me, papa's daughter, when I come to see you!”
The girl's voice trembled, but she threw back her slender neck with
a gesture that became her. The door, which had been closed, stealthily
opened. Hubert Mason's face appeared in the doorway. It was gazing
eagerly—admiringly—at Miss Fountain.
Mrs. Mason did not see him. Nor was she daunted by Laura's anger.
“It's aw yan,” she said stubbornly. “Thoo ha' made a covenant wi'
the Amorite an the Amalekite. They ha' called tha, an thoo art eatin o'
There was an uneasy laugh from the door, and Laura, turning her
astonished eyes in that direction, perceived Hubert standing in the
doorway, and behind him another head thrust eagerly forward—the head
of a young woman in a much betrimmed Sunday hat.
“I say, mother, let her be, wil tha?” said a hearty voice; and,
pushing Hubert aside, the owner of the hat entered the room. She went
up to Laura, and gave her a loud kiss.
“I'm Polly—Polly Mason. An I know who you are weel enough. Doan't
you pay ony attention to mother. That's her way. Hubert an I take it
very kind of you to come and see us.”
“Mother's rats on Amorites!” said Hubert, grinning.
“Rats?—Amorites?”—said Laura, looking piteously at Polly, whose
hand she held.
Polly laughed, a bouncing, good-humoured laugh. She herself was a
bouncing, good-humoured person, the apparent antithesis of her mother
with her lively eyes, her frizzled hair, her high cheek-bones touched
with a bright pink.
“Yo'll have to get oop early to understan' them two,” she declared.
“Mother's allus talkin out o' t' Bible, an Hubert picks up a lot o' low
words out o' Whinthrupp streets—an there 'tis. But now look
here—yo'll stay an tak' a bit o' dinner with us?”
“I don't want to be in your way,” said Laura formally. Really, she
had some difficulty to control the quiver of her lips, though it would
have been difficult to say whether laughter or tears came nearest.
At this Polly broke out in voluble protestations, investigating her
cousin's dress all the time, fingering her little watch-chain, and even
taking up a corner of the pretty cloth jacket that she might examine
the quality of it. Laura, however, looked at Mrs. Mason.
“If Cousin Elizabeth wishes me to stay,” she said proudly.
Polly burst into another loud laugh.
“Yo see, it goes agen mother to be shakin hands wi' yan that's livin
wi' Papists—and Misther Helbeck by the bargain. So wheniver mother
talks aboot Amorites or Jesubites, or any o' thattens, she nobbut means
Papist—Romanists as our minister coes 'em. He's every bit as bad as
her. He would as lief shake hands wi' Mr. Helbeck as wi' the owd 'un!”
“I'll uphowd ye—Mr. Bayley hasn't preached a sermon this ten year
wi'oot chivvyin Papists!” said Hubert from the door. “An yo'll not find
yan o' them in his parish if yo were to hunt it wi' a lantern for a
week o' Sundays. When I was a lad I thowt Romanists were a soart o'
varmin. I awmost looked to see 'em nailed to t' barndoor, same as
“But how strange!” cried Laura—“when there are so few Catholics
about here. And no one hates Catholics now. One may
She looked from mother to son in bewilderment. Not only Hubert's
speech, but his whole manner had broadened and coarsened since his
“Well, if there isn't mony, they make a deal o' talk,” said
Polly—“onyways sence Mr. Helbeck came to t' hall.—Mother, I'll take
Miss Fountain oopstairs, to get her hat off.”
During all the banter of her son and daughter Mrs. Mason had sat in
a disdainful silence, turning her strange eyes—the eyes of a fanatic,
in a singularly shrewd and capable face—now on Laura, now on her
children. Laura looked at her again, irresolute whether to go or stay.
Then an impulse seized her which astonished herself. For it was an
impulse of liking, an impulse of kinship; and as she quickly crossed
the room to Mrs. Mason's side, she said in a pretty pleading voice:
“But you see, Cousin Elizabeth, I'm not a Catholic—and papa wasn't
a Catholic. And I couldn't help Mrs. Fountain going back to her old
religion—you shouldn't visit it on me!”
Mrs. Mason looked up.
“Why art tha not at church on t' Lord's day?”
The question came stern and quick.
Laura wavered, then drew herself up.
“Because I'm not your sort either. I don't believe in your church,
or your ministers. Father didn't, and I'm like him.”
Her voice had grown thick, and she was quite pale. The old woman
stared at her.
“Then yo're nobbut yan o' the heathen!” she said with slow
“I dare say!” cried Laura, half laughing, half crying. “That's my
affair. But I declare I think I hate Catholics as much as you—there,
Cousin Elizabeth! I don't hate my stepmother, of course. I promised
father to take care of her. But that's another matter.”
“Dost tha hate Alan Helbeck?” said Mrs. Mason suddenly, her black
eyes opening in a flash.
The girl hesitated, caught her breath—then was seized with the
strangest, most abject desire to propitiate this grim woman with the
“Yes!” she said wildly. “No, no!—that's silly. I haven't had time
to hate him. But I don't like him, anyway. I'm nearly sure I shall
There was no mistaking the truth in her tone.
Mrs. Mason slowly rose. Her chest heaved with one long breath, then
subsided; her brow tightened. She turned to her son.
“Art tha goin to let Daffady do all thy work for tha?” she said
sharply. “Has t' roan calf bin looked to?”
“Aye—I'm going,” said Hubert evasively, and sheepishly
straightening himself he made for the front door, throwing back more
than one look as he departed at his new cousin.
“And you really want me to stay?” repeated Laura insistently,
addressing Mrs. Mason.
“Yo're welcome,” was the stiff reply. “Nobbut yo'd been mair welcome
if yo hadna brokken t' Sabbath to coom here. Mappen yo'll goa wi'
Polly, an tak' your bonnet off.”
Laura hesitated a moment longer, bit her lip, and went.
* * * * *
Polly Mason was a great talker. In the few minutes she spent with
Laura upstairs, before she hurried down again to help her mother with
the Sunday dinner, she asked her new cousin innumerable questions,
showing an intense curiosity as to Bannisdale and the Helbecks, a
burning desire to know whether Laura had any money of her own, or was
still dependent upon her stepmother, and a joyous appropriative pride
in Miss Fountain's gentility and good looks.
The frankness of Polly's flatteries, and the exuberance of her whole
personality, ended by producing a certain stiffness in Laura. Every now
and then, in the intervals of Polly's questions, when she ceased to be
inquisitive and became confidential, Laura would wonder to herself. She
would half shut her eyes, trying to recall the mental image of her
cousins and of the farm, with which she had started that morning from
Bannisdale; or she would think of her father, his modes of life and
speech—was he really connected, and how, with this place and its
inmates? She had expected something simple and patriarchal. She had
found a family of peasants, living in a struggling, penurious way—a
grim mother speaking broad dialect, a son with no pretensions to
refinement or education, except perhaps through his music—and a
Laura turned an attentive eye on Polly, on her high and red
cheek-bones, the extravagant fringe that vulgarised all her honest
face, the Sunday dress of stone-coloured alpaca, profusely trimmed with
“I will—I will like her!” she said to herself—“I am a
horrid, snobbish, fastidious little wretch.”
But her spirits had sunk. When Polly left her she leant for a moment
upon the sill of the open window, and looked out. Across the dirty,
uneven yard, where the manure lay in heaps outside the byre doors, she
saw the rude farm buildings huddled against each other in a mean,
unsightly group. Down below, from the house porch apparently, a cracked
bell began to ring, and from some doors opposite three labourers, the
“hired men,” who lived and boarded on the farm, came out. The first two
were elderly men, gnarled and bent like tough trees that have fought
the winter; the third was a youth. They were tidily dressed in Sunday
clothes, for their work was done, and they were ready for the
They walked across to the farmhouse in silence, one behind the
other. Not even the young fellow raised his eyes to the window and the
girl framed within it. Behind them came a gust of piercing easterly
wind. A cloud had covered the sun. The squalid farmyard, the bare
fell-side beyond it, the distant levels of the marsh, had taken to
themselves a cold forbidding air. Laura again imagined it in
December—a waste of snow, with the farm making an ugly spot upon the
white, and the little black-bearded sheep she could see feeding on the
fell, crowding under the rocks for shelter. But this time she shivered.
All the spell was broken. To live up here with this madwoman, this
strange youth—and Polly! Yet it seemed to her that something drew her
to Cousin Elizabeth—if she were not so mad. How strange to find this
abhorrence of Mr. Helbeck among these people—so different, so remote!
She remembered her own words—“I am sure I shall hate him!”—not
without a stab of conscience. What had she been doing—perhaps—but
adding her own injustice to theirs?
She stood lost in a young puzzle and heat of feeling—half angry,
But only for a second. Then certain phrases of Augustina's rang
through her mind—she saw herself standing in the corner of the chapel
while the others prayed. Every pulse tightened—her whole nature leapt
again in defiance. She seemed to be holding something at bay—a
tyrannous power that threatened humiliation and hypocrisy, that seemed
at the same time to be prying into secret things—things it should
never, never know—and never rule! Yes, she did understand Cousin
* * * * *
The dinner went sadly. The viands were heavy: so were the faces of
the labourers, and the air of the low-raftered kitchen, heated as it
was by a huge fire, and pervaded by the smell from the farmyard. Laura
felt it all very strange, the presence of the farm servants at the same
table with the Masons and herself—the long silences that no one made
an effort to break—the relations between Hubert and his mother.
As for the labourers, Mason addressed them now and then in a
bullying voice, and they spoke to him as little as they could. It
seemed to Laura that there was an alliance between them and the mother
against a lazy and incompetent master; and that the lad's vanity was
perpetually alive to it. Again and again he would pull himself
together, attempt the gentleman, and devote himself to his young lady
guest. But in the midst of their conversation he would hear something
at the other end of the table, and suddenly there would come a burst of
fierce unintelligible speech between him and the mistress of the house,
while the labourers sat silent and sly, and Polly's loud laugh would
break in, trying to make peace.
Laura's cool grey eyes followed the youth with a constant critical
wonder. In any other circumstances she would not have thought him worth
an instant's attention. She had all the supercilious impatience of the
pretty girl accustomed to choose her company. But this odd fact of
kinship held and harassed her. She wanted to understand these
Masons—her father's folk.
“Now he is really talking quite nicely,” she said to herself on one
occasion, when Hubert had found in the gifts and accomplishments of his
friend Castle, the organist, a subject that untied his tongue and made
him almost agreeable. Suddenly a question caught his ear.
“Daffady, did tha turn the coo?” said his mother in a loud voice.
Even in the homeliest question it had the same penetrating, passionate
quality that belonged to her gaze—to her whole personality indeed.
Hubert dropped his phrase—and his knife and fork—and stared
angrily at Daffady, the old cowman and carter.
Daffady threw his master a furtive look, then munched through a
mouthful of bread and cheese without replying.
He was a grey and taciturn person, with a provocative look of
“What tha bin doin wi' th' coo?” said Hubert sharply. “I left her
mysel nobbut half an hour sen.”
Daffady turned his head again in Hubert's direction for a moment,
then deliberately addressed the mistress.
“Aye, aye, missus”—he spoke in a high small voice—“A turned her
reet enoof, an a gied her soom fresh straa for her yed. She doin varra
“If she'd been turned yesterday in a proper fashion, she'd ha' bin
on her feet by now,” said Mrs. Mason, with a glance at her son.
“Nowt o' t' soart, mother,” cried Hubert. He leant forward, flushed
with wrath, or beer—his potations had begun to fill Laura with
dismay—and spoke with a hectoring violence. “I tell tha when t'
farrier cam oop last night, he said she'd been managed first-rate! If
yo and Daffady had yor way wi' yor fallals an yor nonsense, yo'd never
leave a poor sick creetur alone for five minutes; I towd Daffady to let
her be, an I'll let him knaa who's measter here!”
He glared at the carter, quite regardless of Laura's presence. Polly
coughed loudly, and tried to make a diversion by getting up to clear
away the plates. The three combatants took no notice.
Daffady slowly ran his tongue round his lips; then he said, again
looking at the mistress:
“If a hadna turned her I dew believe she'd ha' gien oos t' slip—she
was terr'ble swollen as 'twos.”
“I tell tha to let her be!” thundered Hubert. “If she deas, that's
ma consarn; I'll ha' noa meddlin wi' my orders—dost tha hear?”
“Aye, it wor thirrty poond thraan awa lasst month, an it'll be
thirrty poond this,” said his mother slowly; “thoo art fine at shoutin.
Bit thy fadther had need ha' addlet his brass—to gie thee summat to
thraw oot o' winder.”
Hubert rose from the table with an oath, stood for an instant
looking down at Laura,—glowering, and pulling fiercely at his
moustache,—then, noisily opening the front door, he strode across the
yard to the byres.
There was an instant's silence. Then Mrs. Mason rose with her hands
clasped before her, her eyes half closed.
“For what we ha' received, the Lord mak' us truly thankful,” she
said in a loud, nasal voice. “Amen.”
* * * * *
After dinner, Laura put on an apron of Polly's, and helped her
cousin to clear away. Mrs. Mason had gruffly bade her sit still, but
when the girl persisted, she herself—flushed with dinner and
combat—took her seat on the settle, opposite to old Daffady, and
deliberately made holiday, watching Stephen's daughter all the time
from the black eyes that roved and shone so strangely under the shaggy
brows and the white hair.
The old cowman sat hunched over the fire, smoking his pipe for a
time in beatific silence.
But presently Laura, as she went to and fro, caught snatches of
“Did tha go ta Laysgill last Sunday?” said Mrs. Mason abruptly.
Daffady removed his pipe.
“Aye, a went, an a preeched. It wor a varra stirrin meetin. Sum o'
yor paid preests sud ha' bin theer. A gien it 'em strang. A tried ta
hit 'em all—baith gert an lile.”
There was a pause, then he added placidly:
“A likely suden't suit them varra weel. Theer was a mon beside me,
as pooed me down afoor a'd hofe doon.”
“Tha sudna taak o' 'paid preests,' Daffady,” said Mrs. Mason
severely. “Tha doosna understand nowt o' thattens.”
Daffady glanced slyly at his mistress—at the “Church-pride” implied
in the attitude of her capacious form, in the shining of the Sunday
alpaca and black silk apron.
“Mebbe not,” he said mildly, “mebbe not.” And he resumed his pipe.
On another occasion, as Laura went flitting across the kitchen,
drawing to herself the looks of both its inmates, she heard what seemed
to be a fragment of talk about a funeral.
“Aye, poor Jenny!” said Mrs. Mason. “They didna mak' mich account on
her whan t' breath wor yanst oot on her.”
“Nay,”—Daffady shook his head for sympathy,—“it wor a varra poor
set-oot, wor Jenny's buryin. Nowt but tay, an sic-like.”
Mrs. Mason raised two gaunt hands and let them drop again on her
“I shud ha' thowt they'd ha' bin ashamed,” she said. “Jenny's brass
ull do 'em noa gude. She wor a fule to leave it to 'un.”
Daffady withdrew his pipe again. His lantern-jawed face, furrowed
with slow thought, hung over the blaze.
“Aye,” he said, “aye. Wal, I've buried three childer—an I'm nobbut
a labrin mon—but a thank the Lord I ha buried them aw—wi' ham.”
The last words came out with solemnity. Laura, at the other end of
the kitchen, turned open-mouthed to look at the pair. Not a feature
moved in either face. She sped back into the dairy, and Polly looked up
“What ails tha?” she said.
“Oh, nothing!” said Laura, dashing the merry tears from her eyes.
She proceeded to roll up her sleeves, and plunge her hands and arms
into the bowl of warm water that Polly had set before her. Meanwhile,
Polly, very big and square, much reddened also by the fuss of household
work, stood just behind her cousin's shoulder, looking down, half in
envy, half in admiration, at the slimness of the white wrists and
A little later the two girls, all traces of their housework removed,
came back into the kitchen. Daffady and Mrs. Mason had disappeared.
“Where is Cousin Elizabeth?” said Laura rather sharply, as she
looked round her.
Polly explained that her mother was probably shut up in her bedroom
reading her Bible. That was her custom on a Sunday afternoon.
“Why, I haven't spoken to her at all!” cried Laura. Her cheek had
Polly showed embarrassment.
“Next time yo coom, mother'll tak' mair noatice. She was takkin
stock o' you t' whole time, I'll uphowd yo.”
“That isn't what I wanted,” said Laura.
She walked to the window and leaned her head against the frame.
Polly watched her with compunction, seeing quite plainly the sudden
drop of the lip. All she could do was to propose to show her cousin the
Laura languidly consented.
So they wandered again through the dark stone-slabbed dairy, with
its milk pans on the one side and its bacon-curing troughs on the
other; and into the little stuffy bedrooms upstairs, each with its
small oak four-poster and patchwork counterpane. They looked at the
home-made quilt of goosedown—Polly's handiwork—that lay on Hubert's
bed; at the clusters of faded photographs and coloured prints that hung
on the old uneven walls; at the vast meal-ark in Polly's room that held
the family store of meal and oatcake for the year.
“When we wor little 'uns, fadther used to give me an Hubert a silver
saxpence the day he browt home t' fresh melder fro' t' mill,” said
Polly; “theer was parlish little nobbut paritch and oatcake to eat when
we wor small. An now I'll uphold yo there isn't a farm servant but
wants his white bread yanst a day whativver happens.”
The house was neat and clean, but there were few comforts in it, and
no luxuries. It showed, too, a number of small dilapidations that a
very little money and care would soon have set to rights. Polly pointed
to them sadly. There was no money, and Hubert didn't trouble himself.
“Fadther was allus workin. He'd be up at half-past four this time o'
year, an he didna go to bed soa early noather. But Hubert'ull do nowt
he can help. Yo can hardly get him to tak' t' peaets i' ter Whinthorpe
when t' peaet-cote's brastin wi' 'em. An as fer doin a job o' cartin
fer t' neebors, t' horses may be eatin their heads off, Hubert woan't
stir hissel'. 'Let 'em lead their aan muck for theirsels'—that's what
he'll say. Iver sen fadther deed it's bin janglin atwixt mother an
Hubert. It makes her mad to see iverything goin downhill. An he's that
masterful he woan't be towd. Yo saw how he went on wi' Daffady at
dinner. But if it weren't for Daffady an us, there'd be no stock left.”
And poor Polly, sitting on the edge of the meal-ark and dangling her
large feet, went into a number of plaintive details, that were mostly
unintelligible, sometimes repulsive, in Laura's ears.
It seemed that Hubert was always threatening to leave the farm.
“Give me a bit of money, and you'll soon be quit of me. I'll go to
Froswick, and make my fortune”—that was what he'd say to his mother.
But who was going to give him money to throw about? And he couldn't
sell the farm while Mrs. Mason lived, by the father's will.
As to her mother, Polly admitted that she was “gey ill to live wi'.”
There was no one like her for “addlin a bit here and addlin a bit
there.” She was the best maker and seller of butter in the
country-side; but she had been queer about religion ever since an
illness that attacked her as a young woman.
And now it was Mr. Bayley, the minister, who excited her, and made
her worse. Polly, for her part, hated him. “My worrd, he do taak!” said
she. And every Sunday he preached against Catholics, and the Pope, and
such like. And as there were no Catholics anywhere near, but Mr.
Helbeck at Bannisdale, and a certain number at Whinthorpe, people
didn't know what to make of him. And they laughed at him, and left off
going—except occasionally for curiosity, because he preached in a
black gown, which, so Polly heard tell, was very uncommon nowadays. But
mother would listen to him by the hour. And it was all along of Teddy
Williams. It was that had set her mad.
Here, however, Polly broke off to ask an eager question. What had
Mr. Helbeck said when Laura told him of her wish to go and see her
“I'll warrant he wasn't best pleased! Feyther couldn't abide
him—because of Teddy. He didn't thraw no stones that neet i'
Whinthrupp Lane—feyther was a strict man and read his Bible
reg'lar—but he stood wi' t' lads an looked on—he didn't say owt to
stop 'em. Mr. Helbeck called to him—he had a priest with him—'Mr.
Mason!' he ses, 'this is an old man—speak to those fellows!' But
feyther wouldn't. 'Let 'em trounce tha!' he ses—'aye, an him too!
It'ull do tha noa harm.'—Well, an what did he say, Mr. Helbeck?—I'd
like to know.”
“Say? Nothing—except that it was a long way, and I might have the
Laura's tone was rather dry. She was sitting on the edge of Polly's
bed, with her arm round one of its oaken posts. Her cheek was laid
against the post, and her eyes had been wandering about a good deal
while Polly talked. Till the mention of Helbeck. Then her attention
came back. And during Polly's account of the incident in Whinthorpe
Lane, she began to frown. What bigotry, after all! As to the story of
young Williams—it was very perplexing—she would get the truth of it
out of Augustina. But it was extraordinary that it should be so well
known in this upland farm—that it should make a kind of link—a link
of hatred—between Mr. Helbeck and the Masons. After her movement of
wild sympathy with Mrs. Mason, she realised now, as Polly's chatter
slipped on, that she understood her cousins almost as little as she did
Nay, more. The picture of Helbeck stoned and abused by these rough,
uneducated folk had begun to rouse in her a curious sympathy.
Unwillingly her mind invested him with a new dignity.
So that when Polly told a rambling story of how Mr. Bayley, after
the street fight, had met Mr. Helbeck at a workhouse meeting and had
placed his hands behind his back when Mr. Helbeck offered his own,
Laura tossed her head.
“What a ridiculous man!” she said disdainfully; “what can it matter
to Mr. Helbeck whether Mr. Bayley shakes hands with him or not?”
Polly looked at her in some astonishment, and dropped the subject.
The elder woman, conscious of plainness and inferiority, was humbly
anxious to please her new cousin. The girl's delicate and
characteristic physique, her clear eyes and decided ways, and a certain
look she had in conversation—half absent, half critical—which was
inherited from her father,—all of them combined to intimidate the
homely Polly, and she felt perhaps less at ease with her visitor as she
saw more of her.
Presently they stood before some old photographs on Polly's
mantelpiece; Polly looked timidly at her cousin.
“Doan't yo think as Hubert's verra handsome?” she said.
And taking up one of the portraits, she brushed it with her sleeve
and handed it to Laura.
Laura held it up for scrutiny.
“No—o,” she said coolly, “not really handsome.”
Polly looked disappointed.
“There's not a mony gells aboot here as doan't coe Hubert handsome,”
she said with emphasis.
“It's Hubert's business to call the girls handsome,” said Laura,
laughing, and handing back the picture.
Polly grinned—then suddenly looked grave.
“I wish he'd leave t' gells alone!” she said with an accent of some
energy, “he'll mappen get into trooble yan o' these days!”
“They don't keep him in his place, I suppose,” said Laura, flushing,
she hardly knew why. She got up and walked across the room to the
window. What did she want to know about Hubert and “t' gells”? She
hated vulgar and lazy young men!—though they might have a musical gift
that, so to speak, did not belong to them.
Nevertheless she turned round again to ask, with some
“Where is your brother?—what is he doing all this time?”
“Sittin alongside the coo, I dare say—lest Daffady should be gettin
the credit of her,” said Polly, laughing. “The poor creetur fell three
days sen—summat like a stroke, t' farrier said,—an Hubert's bin that
jealous o' Daffady iver sen. He's actually poo'ed hissel' oot o' bed
mornins to luke after her!—Lord bless us—I mun goa an feed t'
And hastily throwing an apron over her Sunday gown, Polly clattered
down the stairs in a whirlwind.
* * * * *
Laura followed her more leisurely, passed through the empty kitchen
and opened the front door.
As she stood under the porch looking out, she put up a small hand to
hide a yawn. When she set out that morning she had meant to spend the
whole day at the farm. Now it was not yet tea-time, and she was more
than ready to go. In truth her heart was hot, and rather bitter. Cousin
Elizabeth, certainly, had treated her with a strange coolness. And as
for Hubert—after that burst of friendship, beside the piano! She drew
herself together sharply—she would go at once and ask him for her pony
Lifting her skirt daintily, she picked her way across the dirty
yard, and fumbled at a door opposite—the door whence she had seen old
Daffady come out at dinner-time.
“Who's there?” shouted a threatening voice from within.
Laura succeeded in lifting the clumsy latch. Hubert Mason, from
inside, saw a small golden head appear in the doorway.
“Would you kindly help me get the pony cart?” said the light,
half-sarcastic voice of Miss Fountain. “I must be going, and Polly's
feeding the calves.”
Her eyes at first distinguished nothing but a row of dim animal
forms, in crowded stalls under a low roof. Then she saw a cow lying on
the ground, and Hubert Mason beside her, amid the wreaths of smoke that
he was puffing from a clay pipe. The place was dark, close, and fetid.
She withdrew her head hastily. There was a muttering and movement
inside, and Mason came to the door, thrusting his pipe into his pocket.
“What do you want to go for, just yet?” he said abruptly.
“I ought to get home.”
“No; you don't care for us, nor our ways. That's it; an I don't
She made polite protestations, but he would not listen to them. He
strode on beside her in a stormy silence, till the impulse to prick him
“Do you generally sit with the cows?” she asked him sweetly. She
shot her grey eyes towards him, all mockery and cool examination. He
was not accustomed to such looks from the young women whom he chose to
“I was not going to stay and be treated like that before strangers!”
he said, with a sulky fierceness. “Mother thinks she and Daffady can
just have their own way with me, as they'd used to do when I was nobbut
a lad. But I'll let her know—aye, and the men too!”
“But if you hate farming, why don't you let Daffady do the work?”
Her sly voice stung him afresh.
“Because I'll be measter!” he said, bringing his hand violently down
on the shaft of the pony cart. “If I'm to stay on in this beastly hole
I'll make every one knaw their place. Let mother give me some money, an
I'll soon take myself off, an leave her an Daffady to draw their own
water their own way. But if I'm here I'm measter!” He struck the
“Is it true you don't work nearly as hard as your father?”
He looked at her amazed. If Susie Flinders down at the mill had
spoken to him like that, he would have known how to shut her mouth for
“An I daur say it is,” he said hotly. “I'm not goin to lead the
dog's life my father did—all for the sake of diddlin another sixpence
or two oot o' the neighbours. Let mother give me my money oot o' the
farm. I'd go to Froswick fast enough. That's the place to get on. I've
got friends—I'd work up in no time.”
Laura glanced at him. She said nothing.
“You doan't think I would?” he asked her angrily, pausing in his
handling of the harness to throw back the challenge of her manner. His
wrath seemed to have made him handsomer, better-braced, more alive.
Physically she admired him for the first time, as he stood confronting
But she only lifted her eyebrows a little.
“I thought one had to have a particular kind of brains for
business—and begin early, too?”
“I could learn,” he said gruffly, after which they were both silent
till the harnessing was done.
Then he looked up.
“I'd like to drive you to the bridge—if you're agreeable?”
“Oh, don't trouble yourself, pray!” she said in polite haste.
His brows knit again.
“I know how 'tis—you won't come here again.”
Her little face changed.
“I'd like to,” she said, her voice wavering, “because papa used to
He stared at her.
“I do remember Cousin Stephen,” he said at last, “though I towd you
I didn't. I can see him standing at the door there—wi' a big hat—an a
beard—like straw—an a check coat wi' great bulgin pockets.”
He stopped in amazement, seeing the sudden beauty of her eyes and
“That's it,” she said, leaning towards him. “Oh, that's it!” She
closed her eyes a moment, her small lips trembling. Then she opened
them with a long breath.
“Yes, you may drive me to the bridge if you like.”
* * * * *
And on the drive she was another being. She talked to him about
music, so softly and kindly that the young man's head swam with
pleasure. All her own musical enthusiasms and experiences—the music in
the college chapels, the music at the Greek plays, the few London
concerts and operas she had heard, her teachers and her
hero-worships—she drew upon it all in her round light voice, he
joining in from time to time with a rough passion and yearning that
seemed to transfigure him. In half an hour, as it were, they were
friends; their relations changed wholly. He looked at her with all his
eyes; hung upon her with all his ears. And she—she forgot that he was
vulgar and a clown; such breathless pleasure, such a humble absorption
in superior wisdom, would have blunted the sternest standard.
As for him, the minutes flew. When at last the bridge over the
Bannisdale River came in sight, he began to check the pony.
“Let's drive on a bit,” he said entreatingly.
“No, no—I must get back to Mrs. Fountain.” And she took the reins
from his hands.
“I say, when will you come again?”
“Oh, I don't know.” She had put on once more the stand-off town-bred
manner that puzzled his countryman's sense.
“I say, mother shan't talk that stuff to you next time. I'll tell
her—” he said imploringly.—“Halloa! let me out, will you?”
And to her amazement, before she could draw in the pony, he had
jumped out of the cart.
“There's Mr. Helbeck!” he said to her with a crimson face. “I'm off.
He shook her hand hastily, turned his back, and strode away.
She looked towards the gate in some bewilderment, and saw that
Helbeck was holding it open for her. Beside him stood a tall
priest—not Father Bowles. It was evident that both of them had seen
her parting from her cousin.
Well, what then? What was there in that, or in Mr. Helbeck's
ceremonious greeting, to make her cheeks hot all in a moment? She could
have beaten herself for a silly lack of self-possession. Still more
could she have beaten Hubert for his clownish and hurried departure.
What was he afraid of? Did he think that she would have shown the
smallest shame of her peasant relations?
“Is that Mrs. Fountain's stepdaughter?” said Helbeck's companion, as
Laura and her cart disappeared round a corner of the winding road on
which the two men were walking.
Helbeck made a sign of assent.
“You may very possibly have known her father?” He named the
Cambridge college of which Stephen Fountain had been a Fellow.
The Jesuit, who was a convert, and had been a distinguished
Cambridge man, considered for a moment.
“Oh! yes—I remember the man! A strange being, who was only heard
of, if I recollect right, in times of war. If there was any dispute
going—especially on a religious point—Stephen Fountain would rush
into it with broad-sheets. Oh, yes, I remember him perfectly—a great
untidy, fair-haired, truculent fellow, to whom anybody that took any
thought for his soul was either fool or knave. How much of him does the
Helbeck returned the other's smile. “A large slice, I think. She
comes here in the curious position of having never lived in a Christian
household before, and she seems already to have great difficulty in
putting up with us.”
Father Leadham laughed, then looked reflective.
“How often have I known that the best of all possible beginnings! Is
she attached to her stepmother?”
“Yes. But Mrs. Fountain has no influence over her.”
“It is a striking colouring—that white skin and reddish hair. And
it is a face of some power, too.”
“Power?” Helbeck demurred. “I think she is clever,” he said dryly.
“And, of course, coming from a university town, she has heard of things
that other girls know nothing of. But she has had no training, moral or
“And no Christian education?”
Helbeck shrugged his shoulders.
“She was only baptized with difficulty. When she was eleven or
twelve she was allowed to go to church two or three times, I
understand, on the helot principle—was soon disgusted—her father of
course supplying a running comment at home—and she has stood
absolutely outside religion of all kinds since.”
“Poor child!” said the priest with heartiness. The paternal note in
the words was more than official. He was a widower, and had lost his
wife and infant daughter two years before his entrance into the Church
Helbeck smiled. “I assure you Miss Fountain spends none of her pity
“I dare say more than you think. The position of the unbeliever in a
house like yours is always a painful one. You see she is alone. There
must be a sense of exile—of something touching and profound going on
beside her, from which she is excluded. She comes into a house with a
chapel, where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, where everybody is
keeping a strict Lent. She has not a single thought in common with you
all. No; I am very sorry for Miss Fountain.”
Helbeck was silent a moment. His dark face showed a shade of
“She has some relations near here,” he said at last, “but
unfortunately I can't do much to promote her seeing them. You remember
“Of course. You had some local row, didn't you? Ah! I remember.”
And the two men walked on, discussing a case which had been and was
still of great interest to them as Catholics. The hero, moreover—the
Jesuit novice himself—was well known to them both.
“So Miss Fountain's relations belong to that peasant class?” said
the Jesuit, musing. “How curious that she should find herself in such a
double relation to you and Bannisdale!”
“Consider me a little, if you please,” said Helbeck, with his
slight, rare smile. “While that young lady is under my roof—you see
how attractive she is—I cannot get rid, you will admit, of a certain
responsibility. Augustina has neither the will nor the authority of a
mother, and there is literally no one else. Now there happens to be a
young man in this Mason family——”
“Ah!” said the priest; “the young gentleman who jumped out at the
bridge, with such a very light pair of heels?”
Helbeck nodded. “The old people were peasants and fanatics. They
thought ill of me in the Williams affair, and the mother, who is still
alive, would gladly hang and quarter me to-morrow if she could. But
that is another point. The old people had their own dignity, their own
manners and virtues—or, rather, the manners and virtues of their
class. The old man was coarse and boorish, but he was hard-working and
honourable, and a Christian after his own sort. But the old man is
dead, and the son, who now works the farm jointly with his mother, is
of no class and no character. He has just education enough to despise
his father and his father's hard work. He talks the dialect with his
inferiors, or his kindred, and drops it with you and me. The old
traditions have no hold upon him, and he is just a vulgar and rather
vicious hybrid, who drinks more than is good for him and has a natural
affinity for any sort of low love-affair. I came across him at our last
hunt ball. I never go to such things, but last year I went.”
“Good!” ejaculated the Jesuit, turning a friendly face upon the
Helbeck paused. The word, still more the emphasis with which it was
thrown out, challenged him. He was about to defend himself against an
implied charge, but thought better of it, and resumed:
“And unfortunately, considering the way in which all the clan felt
towards me already, I found this youth in the supper-room, misbehaving
himself with a girl of his own sort, and very drunk. I fetched a
steward, and he was told to go. After which, you may imagine that it is
scarcely agreeable to me to see my guest—a very young lady, very
pretty, very distinguished—driving about the country in cousinly
relations with this creature!”
The last words were spoken with considerable vivacity. The
aristocrat and the ascetic, the man of high family and the man of
scrupulous and fastidious character, were alike expressed in them.
The Jesuit pondered a little.
“No; you will have to keep watch. Why not distract her? You must
have plenty of other neighbours to show her.”
Helbeck shook his head.
“I live like a hermit. My sister is in the first year of her
widowhood and very delicate.”
“I see.” The Jesuit hesitated, then said, smiling, in the tone of
one who makes a venture: “The Bishop and I allowed ourselves to discuss
these cloistered ways of yours the other day. We thought you would
forgive us as a pair of old friends.”
“I know,” was the somewhat quick interruption, “the Bishop is of
Manning's temper in these things. He believes in acting on and with the
Protestant world—in our claiming prominence as citizens. It was to
please him that I joined one or two committees last year—that I went
to the hunt ball——”
Then, suddenly, in a very characteristic way, Helbeck checked his
own flow of speech, and resumed more quietly: “Well, all that——”
“Leaves you of the same opinion still?” said the Jesuit, smiling.
“Precisely. I don't belong to my neighbours, nor they to me. We
don't speak the same language, and I can't bring myself to speak
theirs. The old conditions are gone, I know. But my feeling remains
pretty much, what that of my forefathers was. I recognise that it is
not common nowadays—but I have the old maxim in my blood: 'Extra
ecclesiam nulla salus.'“
“There is none which has done us more deadly harm in England,” cried
the Jesuit. “We forget that England is a baptized nation, and is
therefore in the supernatural state.”
“I remind myself of it very often,” said Helbeck, with a kind of
proud submission; “and I judge no man. But my powers, my time, are all
limited. I prefer to devote them to the 'household of faith.'“
The two men walked on in silence for a time. Presently Father
Leadham's face showed amusement, and he said:
“Certainly we modern converts have a better time of it than our
predecessors! The Bishop tells me the most incredible things about the
old feeling towards them in this Vicariate. And wherever I go I seem to
hear the tale of the old priest who thanked God that he had never
received anyone into the Church. Everybody has met someone who knew
that old fellow! He may be a myth—but there is clearly history at the
back of him!”
“I understand him perfectly,” said Helbeck, smiling; and he added
immediately, with a curious intensity, “I, too, have never influenced,
never tried to influence, anyone in my life.”
The priest looked at him, wondering.
“Williams! But Williams was born for the faith. Directly he saw what
I wanted to do in the chapel, he prayed to come and help me. It was his
summer holiday—he neglected no duty; it was wonderful to see his
happiness in the work—as I thought, an artistic happiness only. He
used to ask me questions about the different saints; once or twice he
borrowed a book—it was necessary to get the emblems correct. But I
never said a single controversial word to him. I never debated
religious subjects with him at all, till the night when he took refuge
with me after his father had thrashed him so cruelly that he could not
stand. Grace taught him, not I.”
“Grace taught him, but through you,” said the priest with quiet
emphasis. “Perhaps I know more about that than you do.”
“I think you are mistaken. At any rate, I should prefer that you
The priest raised his eyebrows.
“A man who holds 'no salvation outside the Church,'“ he said slowly,
“and rejoices in the thought that he has never influenced anybody?”
“I should hope little from the work achieved by such an instrument.
Some men have enough to do with their own souls,” was the low but
The priest threw a wondering glance at his companion, at the signs
of feeling—profound and morbid feeling—on the harsh face beside him.
“Perhaps you have never cared enough for anyone outside to wish
passionately to bring them within,” he said. “But if that ever happens
to you, you will be ready—I think you will be ready—to use any tool,
The priest's voice changed a little. Helbeck, somewhat startled,
recalled the facts of Father Leadham's personal history, and thought he
understood. The subject was instantly dropped, and the two men walked
on to the house, discussing a great canonisation service at St. Peter's
and the Pope's personal part in it.
* * * * *
The old Hall, as Helbeck and Father Leadham approached it, looked
down upon a scene of animation to which in these latter days it was but
little accustomed. The green spaces and gravelled walks in front of it
were sprinkled with groups of children in a blue-and-white uniform.
Three or four Sisters of Mercy in their winged white caps moved about
among them, and some of the children hung clustered like bees about the
Sisters' skirts, while others ran here and there, gleefully picking the
scattered daffodils that starred the grass.
The invaders came from the Orphanage of St. Ursula, a house founded
by Mr. Helbeck's exertions, which lay half-way between Bannisdale and
Whinthorpe. They had not long arrived, and were now waiting for Rosary
and Benediction in the chapel before they were admitted to the tea
which Mrs. Denton and Augustina had already spread for them in the big
At sight of the children Helbeck's face lit up and his step
quickened. They on their side ran to him from all parts; and he had
hardly time to greet the Sisters in charge of them, before the eager
creatures were pulling him into the walled garden behind the Hall, one
small girl hanging on his hand, another perched upon his shoulder.
Father Leadham went into the house to prepare for the service.
The garden was old and dark, like the Tudor house that stood between
it and the sun. Rows of fantastic shapes carved in living yew and box
stood ranged along the straight walks. A bowling-green enclosed in high
beech hedges was placed in the exact centre of the whole formal place,
while the walks and alleys from three sides, west, north, and south,
converged upon it, according to a plan unaltered since it was first
laid down in the days of James II. At this time of the year there were
no flowers in the stiff flower-beds; for Mr. Helbeck had long ceased to
spend any but the most necessary monies upon his garden. Only upon the
high stone walls that begirt this strange and melancholy
pleasure-ground, and in the “wilderness” that lay on the eastern side,
between the garden and the fell, were nature and the spring allowed to
show themselves. Their joint magic had covered the old walls with fruit
blossom and spread the “wilderness” with daffodils. Otherwise all was
dark, tortured, fantastic, a monument of old-world caprice that the
heart could not love, though piety might not destroy it.
The children, however, brought life and brightness. They chased each
other up and down the paths, and in and out of the bowling-green.
Helbeck set them to games, and played with them himself. Only for the
orphans now did he ever thus recall his youth.
Two Sisters, one comparatively young, the other a woman of fifty,
stood in an opening of the bowling-green, looking at the games.
The younger one said to her companion, who was the Superior of the
orphanage, “I do like to see Mr. Helbeck with the children! It seems to
change him altogether.”
She spoke with eager sympathy, while her eyes, the visionary eyes of
the typical religious, sunk in a face that was at once sweet and
peevish, followed the children and their host.
The other—shrewd-faced and large—had a movement of impatience.
“I should like to see Mr. Helbeck with some children of his own. For
five years now I have prayed our Blessed Mother to give him a good
wife. That's what he wants. Ah! Mrs. Fountain——”
And as Augustina advanced with her little languid air, accompanied
by her stepdaughter, the Sisters gathered round her, chattering and
cooing, showing her a hundred attentions, enveloping her in a homage
that was partly addressed to the sister of their benefactor, and
partly—as she well understood—to the sheep that had been lost and was
found. To the stepdaughter they showed a courteous reserve. One or two
of them had already made acquaintance with her, and had not found her
And, indeed, Laura held herself aloof, as before. But she shot a
glance of curiosity at the elderly woman who had wished Mr. Helbeck a
good wife. The girl had caught the remark as she and her stepmother
turned the corner of the dense beechen hedge that, with openings to
each point of the compass, enclosed the bowling-green.
Presently Helbeck, stopping to take breath in a game of which he had
been the life, caught sight of the slim figure against the red-brown of
the hedge. The next moment he perceived that Miss Fountain was watching
him with an expression of astonishment.
His first instinct was to let her be. Her manner towards him since
her arrival, with hardly a break, had been such as to chill the most
sociable temper. And Helbeck's temper was far from sociable.
But something in her attitude—perhaps its solitariness—made him
uncomfortable. He went up to her, dragging with him a crowd of small
children, who tugged at his coat and hands.
“Miss Fountain, will you take pity on us? My breath is gone.”
He saw her hesitate. Then her sudden smile broke out.
“What'll you have?” she said, catching hold of the nearest child.
And off she flew, running, twisting, turning with the merriest of
them, her loosened hair gleaming in the sun, her small feet twinkling.
Now it was Helbeck's turn to stand and watch. What a curious grace and
purpose there was in all her movements! Even in her play Miss Fountain
was a personality.
At last a little girl who was running with her began to drag and
turn pale. Laura stopped to look at her.
“I can't run any more,” said the child piteously. “I had a bone took
out of my leg last year.”
She was a sickly-looking creature, rickety and consumptive, a waif
from a Liverpool slum. Laura picked her up and carried her to a seat in
a yew arbour away from the games. Then the child studied her with
shy-looking eyes, and suddenly slipped an arm like a bit of stick round
the pretty lady's neck.
“Tell me a story, please, teacher,” she said imploringly.
Laura was taken aback, for she had forgotten the tales of her own
childhood, and had never possessed any younger brothers or sisters, or
paid much attention to children in general. But with some difficulty
she stumbled through Cinderella.
“Oh, yes, I know that; but it's lovely,” said the child, at the end,
with a sigh of content. “Now I'll tell you one.”
And in a high nasal voice, like one repeating a lesson in class, she
began upon something which Laura soon discovered to be the life of a
saint. She followed the phrases of it with a growing repugnance, till
at last the speaker said, with the unction of one sure of her audience:
“And once the good Father went to a hospital to visit some sick
people. And as he was hearing a poor sailor's confession, he found out
that it was his own brother, whom he had not seen for a long, long
time. Now the sailor was very ill, and going to die, and he had been a
bad man, and done a great many wicked things. But the good Father did
not let the poor man know who he was. He went home and told his
Superior that he had found his brother. And the Superior forbade him to
go and see his brother again, because, he said, God would take care of
him. And the Father was very sad, and the devil tempted him sorely. But
he prayed to God, and God helped him to be obedient.
“And a great many years afterwards a poor woman came to see the good
Father. And she told him she had seen our Blessed Lady in a vision. And
our Blessed Lady had sent her to tell the Father that because he had
been so obedient, and had not been to see his brother again, our Lady
had prayed our Lord for his brother. And his brother had made a good
death, and was saved, all because the good Father had obeyed what his
Superior told him.”
Laura sprang up. The child, who had expected a kiss and a pious
phrase, looked up, startled.
“Wasn't that a pretty story?” she said timidly.
“No; I don't like it at all,” said Miss Fountain decidedly. “I
wonder they tell you such tales!”
The child stared at her for a moment. Then a sudden veil fell across
the clearness of her eyes, which had the preternatural size and
brilliance of disease. Her expression changed. It became the slyness of
the watching animal, that feels the enemy. She said not another word.
Laura felt a pang of shame, even though she was still vibrating with
the repulsion the child's story had excited in her.
“Look!” she said, raising the little one in her arms; “the others
are all going into the house. Shall we go too?”
But the child struggled resolutely.
“Let me down. I can walk.” Laura set her down, and the child walked
as fast as her lame leg would let her to join the others. Once or twice
she looked round furtively at her companion; but she would not take the
hand Laura offered her, and she seemed to have wholly lost her tongue.
“Little bigot!” thought Laura, half angry, half amused; “do they
catch it from their cradle?”
Presently they found themselves in the tail of a crowd of children
and Sisters who were ascending the stairs of a doorway opening on the
garden. The doorway led, as Laura knew, to the corridor of the chapel.
She let herself be carried along, irresolute, and presently she found
herself within the curtained doorway, mechanically helping the Sisters
and Augustina to put the children in their places.
One or two of the older children noticed that the young lady with
Mrs. Fountain did not sign herself with holy water, and did not
genuflect in passing the altar, and they looked at her with a stealthy
surprise. A gentle-looking young Sister came up to her as she was
lifting a very small child to a seat.
“Thank you,” murmured the Sister, “It is very good of you.” But the
voice, though so soft, was cold, and Laura at once felt herself the
intruder, and withdrew to the back of the crowd.
Yet again, as at her first visit to the chapel, so now, she was too
curious, for all her soreness, to go. She must see what they would be
* * * * *
“Rosary” passed, and she hardly understood a word. The voice of the
Jesuit intoning suggested nothing intelligible to her, and it was some
time before she could even make out what the children were saying in
their loud-voiced responses. “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us
sinners, now and at the hour of our death”—was that it? And
occasionally an “Our Father” thrown in—all of it gabbled as fast as
possible, as though the one object of both priest and people were to
get through and make an end. Over and over again, without an
inflection, or a change—with just the one monotonous repetition and
the equally monotonous variation. What a barbarous and foolish
Very soon she gave up listening. Her eyes wandered to the frescoes,
to the bare altar with its purple covering, to the tall candles
sparkling before the tabernacle; and the coloured and scented gloom,
pierced with the distant lights, gave her a vague pleasure.
Presently there was a pause. The children settled themselves in
their seats with a little clatter. Father Leadham retired, while the
Sisters knelt, each bowed profoundly on herself, eyes closed under her
coif, hands clasped in front of her.
What were they waiting for? Ah! there was the priest again, but in a
changed dress—a white cope of some splendour. The organ, played by one
of the Sisters, broke out upon the silence, and the voices of the rest
rose suddenly, small and sweet, in a Latin hymn. The priest went to the
tabernacle, and set it open. There was a swinging of incense, and the
waves of fragrant smoke flowed out upon the chapel, dimming the altar
and the figure before it. Laura caught sight for a moment of the young
Sister who had spoken to her. She was kneeling and singing, with sweet,
shut eyes; it was clear that she was possessed by a fervour of feeling.
Miss Fountain thought to herself, with wonder, “She cannot be much
older than I am!”
After the hymn it was the children's turn. What were they singing so
lustily to so dancing a tune? Laura bent over to look at the book of a
Sister in front of her.
“Virgo prudentissima, Virgo veneranda, Virgo praedicanda——”
With difficulty she found the place in another book that lay upon a
chair beside her. Then for a few minutes she lost herself in a first
amazement over that string of epithets and adjectives with which the
Catholic Church throughout the world celebrates day by day and Sunday
after Sunday the glories of Mary. The gay music, the harsh and eager
voices of the children, flowed on, the waves of incense spread
throughout the chapel. When she raised her eyes they fell upon
Helbeck's dark head in the far distance, above his server's cotta. A
quick change crossed her face, transforming it to a passionate
* * * * *
But of her no one thought—save once. The beautiful “moment” of the
ceremony had come. Father Leadham had raised the monstrance, containing
the Host, to give the Benediction. Every Sister, every child, except a
few small and tired ones, was bowed in humblest adoration.
Mr. Helbeck, too, was kneeling in the little choir. But his
attention wandered. With the exception of his walk with Father Leadham,
he had been in church since early morning, and even for him response
was temporarily exhausted. His look strayed over the chapel.
It was suddenly arrested. Above the kneeling congregation a distant
face showed plainly in the April dusk amid the dimness of incense and
painting—a girl's face, delicately white and set—a face of revolt.
“Why is she here?” was his first thought. It came with a rush of
annoyance, even resentment. But immediately other thoughts met it: “She
is lonely; she is here under my roof; she has lost her father; poor
The last mental phrase was not so much his own as an echo from
Father Leadham. In Helbeck's mind it was spoken very much as the priest
had spoken it—with that strange tenderness, at once so intimate and so
impersonal, which belongs to the spiritual relations of Catholicism.
The girl's soul—lonely, hostile, uncared for—appealed to the charity
of the believer. At the same time there was something in her defiance,
her crude disapproval of his house and his faith, that stimulated and
challenged the man. Conscious for the first time of a new conflict of
feeling within himself, he looked steadily towards her across the
It was as though he had sought and found a way to lift himself above
her young pride, her ignorant enmity. For a moment there was a curious
exaltation and tyranny in his thought. He dropped his head and prayed
for her, the words falling slow and deliberate within his
consciousness. And she could not resent it or stop it. It was an
aggression before which she was helpless; it struck down the protest of
her pale look.
* * * * *
At supper, when the Sisters and their charges had departed, Father
Bowles appeared, and never before had Helbeck been so lamentably aware
of the absurdities and inferiorities of his parish priest.
The Jesuit, too, was sharply conscious of them, and even Augustina
felt that something was amiss. Was it that they were all—except Father
Bowles—affected by the presence of the young lady on Helbeck's
right—by the cool detachment of her manner, the self-possession that
appealed to no one and claimed none of the prerogatives of sex and
charm, while every now and then it made itself felt in tacit and
resolute opposition to her environment?
“He might leave those things alone!” thought the Jesuit angrily, as
he heard Father Bowles giving Mrs. Fountain a gently complacent account
of a geological lecture lately delivered in Whinthorpe.
“What I always say, you know, my dear lady, is this: you must show
me the evidence! After all, you geologists have done much—you have dug
here and there, it is true. But dig all over the world—dig
everywhere—lay it all bare. Then you may ask me to listen to you!”
The little round-faced priest looked round the table for support.
Laura bit her lip and bent over her plate. Father Leadham turned
hastily to Helbeck, and began to discuss with him a recent monograph on
the Roman Wall, showing a plentiful and scholarly knowledge of the
subject. And presently he drew in the girl opposite, addressing her
with a man-of-the-world ease and urbanity which disarmed her. It
appeared that he had just come back from mission-work in British
Guiana, that he had been in India, and was in all respects a travelled
and accomplished person. But the girl did not yield herself, though she
listened quite civilly and attentively while he talked.
But again through the Jesuit's easy or polished phrases there broke
the purring inanity of Father Bowles.
“Lourdes, my dear lady? Lourdes? How can there be the smallest doubt
of the miracles of Lourdes? Why! they keep two doctors on the spot to
The Jesuit's sense of humour was uncomfortably touched. He glanced
at Miss Fountain, but could only see that she was gazing steadily out
As for himself, convert and ex-Fellow of a well-known college, he
gave a strong inward assent to the judgment of some of his own leaders,
that the older Catholic priests of this country are as a rule
lamentably unfit for their work. “Our chance in England is broadening
every year,” he said to himself. “How are we to seize it with such
tools? But all round we want men. Oh! for a few more of those
who were 'out in forty-five'!”
* * * * *
In the drawing-room after dinner Laura, as usual, entrenched herself
in one of the deep oriel windows, behind a heavy table: Augustina
showed an anxious curiosity as to the expedition of the morning—as to
the Masons and their farm. But Laura would say very little about them.
When the gentlemen came in, Helbeck sent a searching look round the
drawing-room. He had the air of one who enters with a purpose.
The beautiful old room lay in a half-light. A lamp at either end
could do but little against the shadows that seemed to radiate from the
panelled walls and from the deep red hangings of the windows. But the
wood fire on the hearth sent out a soft glow, which fastened on the few
points of brilliance in the darkness—on the ivory of the fretted
ceiling, on the dazzling dress of the Romney, on the gold of Miss
Laura looked up with some surprise as Helbeck approached her; then,
seeing that he apparently wished to talk, she made a place for him
among the old “Books of Beauty” with which she had been bestrewing the
seat that ran round the window.
“I trust the pony behaved himself this morning?” he said, as he sat
Laura answered politely.
“And you found your way without difficulty?”
“Oh, yes! Your directions were exact.”
Inwardly she said to herself, “Does he want to cross-examine me
about the Masons?” Then, suddenly, she noticed the scar under his
hair—a jagged mark, testifying to a wound of some severity—and it
made her uncomfortable. Nay, it seemed in some curious way to put her
in the wrong, to shake her self-reliance.
But Helbeck had not come with the intention of talking about the
Masons. His avoidance of their name was indeed a pointed one. He drew
out her admiration of the daffodils and of the view from Browhead Lane.
“After Easter we must show you something of the high mountains.
Augustina tells me you admire the country. The head of Windermere will
His manner of offering her these civilities was somewhat stiff and
conventional—the manner of one who had been brought up among country
gentry of the old school, apart from London and the beau monde.
But it struck Laura that, for the first time, he was speaking to her as
a man of his breeding might be expected to speak to a lady visiting his
house. There was consideration, and an apparent desire to please. It
was as though she had grown all at once into something more in his eyes
than Mrs. Fountain's little stepdaughter, who was, no doubt, useful as
a nurse and a companion, but radically unwelcome and insignificant none
Inevitably the girl's vanity was smoothed. She began to answer more
naturally; her smile became more frequent. And gradually an unwonted
ease and enjoyment stole over Helbeck also. He talked with so much
animation at last as to draw the attention of another person in the
room. Father Leadham, who had been leaning with some languor against
the high, carved mantel, while Father Bowles and Augustina babbled
beneath him, began to take increasing notice of Miss Fountain, and of
her relation to the Bannisdale household. For a girl who had “no
training, moral or intellectual,” she was showing herself, he thought,
possessed of more attraction than might have been expected, for the
strict master of the house.
Presently Helbeck came to a pause in what he was saying. He had been
describing the country of Wordsworth, and had been dwelling on Grasmere
and Eydal Mount, in the tone, indeed, of one who had no vital concern
whatever with the Lake poets or their poetry, but still with an evident
desire to interest his companion. And following closely on this first
effort to make friends with her something further suggested itself.
He hesitated, looked at Laura, and at last said, in a lower voice
than he had been using, “I believe your father, Miss Fountain, was a
great lover of Wordsworth. Augustina has told me so. You and he were
accustomed, were you not, to read much together? Your loss must be very
great. You will not wonder, perhaps, that for me there are painful
thoughts connected with your father. But I have not been insensible—I
have not been without feeling—for my sister—and for you.”
He spoke with embarrassment, and a kind of appeal. Laura had been
startled by his first words, and while he spoke she sat very pale and
upright, staring at him. The hand on her lap shook.
When he ceased she did not answer. She turned her head, and he saw
her pretty throat tremble. Then she hastily raised her handkerchief; a
struggle passed over the face; she wiped away her tears, and threw back
her head, with a sobbing breath and a little shake of the bright hair,
like one who reproves herself. But she said nothing; and it was evident
that she could say nothing without breaking down.
Deeply touched, Helbeck unconsciously drew a little nearer to her.
Changing the subject at once, he began to talk to her of the children
and the little festival of the afternoon. An hour before he would have
instinctively avoided doing anything of the kind. Now, at last, he
ventured to be himself, or something near it. Laura regained her
composure, and bent her attention upon him, with a slightly frowning
brow. Her mind was divided between the most contradictory impulses and
attractions. How had it come about, she asked herself, after a while,
that she was listening like this to his schemes for his children
and his new orphanage?—she, and not his natural audience, the two
priests and Augustina.
She actually heard him describe the efforts made by himself and one
or two other Catholics in the county to provide shelter and education
for the county's Catholic orphans. He dwelt on the death and
disappearance of some of his earlier colleagues, on the urgent need for
a new building in the neighbourhood of the county town, and for the
enlargement of the “home” he himself had put up some ten years before,
on the Whinthorpe Road.
“But, unfortunately, large plans want large means,” he added, with a
smile, “and I fear it will come to it—has Augustina said anything to
you about it?—I fear there is nothing for it, but that our beauteous
lady there must provide them.”
He nodded towards the picture that gleamed from the opposite wall.
Then he added gravely, and with a perfect simplicity:
“It is my last possession of any value.”
Several times during the fortnight that she had known him, Laura had
heard him speak with a similar simplicity about his personal and
pecuniary affairs. That anyone so stately should treat himself and his
own worldly concerns with so much naivete had been a source of
frequent surprise to her. To what, then, did his dignity, his reserve
Nevertheless, because, childishly, she had already taken a side, as
it were, about the picture, his manner, with its apparent indifference,
annoyed her. She drew back.
“Yes, Augustina told me. But isn't it cruel? isn't it unkind? A
picture like that is alive. It has been here so long—one could hardly
feel it belonged only to oneself. It is part of the house, isn't
it?—part of the family? Won't other people—people who come
Helbeck lifted his shoulders, his dark face half amused, half sad.
“She died a hundred years ago, pretty creature! She has had her
turn; so have we—in the pleasure of looking at her.”
“But she belongs to you,” said the girl insistently. “She is your
own kith and kin.”
He hesitated, then said, with a new emphasis that answered her own:
“Perhaps there are two sorts of kindred——”
The girl's cheek flushed.
“And the one you mean may always push out the other? I know, because
one of your children told me a story to-day—such a frightful
story!—of a saint who would not go to see his dying brother, for
obedience' sake. She asked me if I liked it. How could I say I liked
it! I told her it was horrible! I wondered how people could tell her
Her bearing was again all hostility—a young defiance. She was
delighted to confess herself. Her crime, untold, had been pressing upon
her conscience, hurting her natural frankness.
Helbeck's face changed. He looked at her attentively, the fine dark
eye, under the commanding brow, straight and sparkling.
“You said that to the child?”
Her breast fluttered. She trembled, he saw, with an excitement she
could hardly repress.
He, too, felt a novel excitement—the excitement of a strong will
provoked. It was clear to him that she meant to provoke him—that her
young personality threw itself wantonly across his own. He spoke with a
“You did wrong, I think—quite wrong. Excuse the word, but you have
brought me to close quarters. You sowed the seeds of doubt, of revolt,
in a child's mind.”
“Perhaps,” said Laura quickly. “What then?”
She wore her half-wild, half-mocking look. Everything soft and
touching had disappeared. The eyes shone under the golden mass of hair;
the small mouth was close and scornful. Helbeck looked at her in
amazement, his own pulse hurrying.
“What then?” he echoed, with a sternness that astonished himself.
“Ask your own feeling. What has a child—a little child under
orders—to do with doubt, or revolt? For her—for all of us—doubt is
Laura rose. She forced down her agitation—made herself speak
“Papa taught me—it was life—and I believe him.”
The old clock in the farther corner of the room struck a quarter to
ten—the hour of prayers. The two priests on the farther side of the
room stood up, and Augustina sheathed her knitting-needles.
Laura turned towards Helbeck and coldly held out her little hand. He
touched it, and she crossed the room. “Good-night, Augustina.”
She kissed her stepmother, and bowed to the two priests. Father
Leadham ceremoniously opened the door for her. Then he and Helbeck,
Father Bowles and Augustina followed across the dark hall on their way
to the chapel. Laura took her candle, and her light figure could be
seen ascending the Jacobean staircase, a slim and charming vision
against the shadows of the old house.
Father Leadham followed it with eyes and thoughts. Then he glanced
towards Helbeck. An idea—and one that was singularly unwelcome—was
forcing its way into the priest's mind.
From that night onwards the relations between Helbeck and his
sister's stepdaughter took another tone. He no longer went his own way,
with no more than a vague consciousness that a curious and difficult
girl was in the house; he watched her with increasing interest; he
began to taste, as it were, the thorny charm that was her peculiar
Not that he was allowed to see much of the charm. After the
conversation of Passion Sunday her manner to him was no less cold and
distant than before. Their final collision, on the subject of the
child, had, he supposed, undone the effects of his conciliatory words
about her father. It must be so, no doubt, since her hostile
observation of him and of his friends seemed to be in no whit softened.
That he should be so often conscious of her at this particular time
annoyed and troubled him. It was the most sacred moment of the Catholic
year. Father Leadham, his old Stonyhurst friend, had come to spend
Passion Week and Holy Week at Bannisdale, as a special favour to one
whom the Church justly numbered among the most faithful of her sons;
while the Society of Jesus had many links of mutual service and
affection, both with the Helbeck family in the past and with the
present owner of the Hall. Helbeck, indeed, was of real importance to
Catholicism in this particular district of England. It had once
abounded in Catholic families, but now hardly one of them remained, and
upon Helbeck, with his small resources and dwindling estate, devolved a
number of labours which should have been portioned out among a large
circle. Only enthusiasm such as his could have sufficed for the task.
But, for the Church's sake, he had now remained unmarried some fifteen
years. He lived like an ascetic in the great house, with a couple of
women servants; he spent all his income—except a fraction—on the good
works of a wide district; when larger sums were necessary he was ready,
nay, eager, to sell the land necessary to provide them; and whenever he
journeyed to other parts of England, or to the Continent, it was
generally assumed that he had gone, not as other men go, for pleasure
and recreation, but simply that he might pursue some Catholic end,
either of money or administration, among the rich and powerful of the
faith elsewhere. Meanwhile, it was believed that he had bequeathed the
house and park of Bannisdale to a distant cousin, also a strict
Catholic, with the warning that not much else would remain to his heir
from the ancient and splendid inheritance of the family.
It was not wonderful, then, that the Jesuits should be glad to do
such a man a service; and no service could have been greater in
Helbeck's eyes than a visit from a priest of their order during these
weeks of emotion and of penance. Every day Mass was said in the little
chapel; every evening a small flock gathered to Litany or Benediction.
Ordinary life went on as it could in the intervals of prayer and
meditation. The house swarmed with priests—with old and infirm
priests, many of them from a Jesuit house of retreat on the western
coast, not far away, who found in a visit to Bannisdale one of the
chief pleasures of their suffering or monotonous lives; while the
Superiors of Helbeck's own orphanages were always ready to help the
Bannisdale chapel, on days of special sanctity, by sending a party of
Sisters and children to provide the singing.
Meanwhile all else was forgotten. As to food, Helbeck and Father
Leadham—according to the letters describing her experiences which
Laura wrote during these weeks to a Cambridge girl friend—lived upon
“a cup of coffee and a banana” per day, and she had endless difficulty
in restraining her charge, Augustina, from doing likewise. For
Augustina, indeed—Stephen Fountain's little black-robed widow—her
husband was daily receding further and further into a dim and dreadful
distance, where she feared and yet wept to think of him. She passed her
time in the intoxication of her recovered faith, excited by the people
around her, by the services in the chapel, and by her very terrors over
her own unholy union, lapse, and restoration. The sound of intoning,
the scent, of incense, seemed to pervade the house; and at the centre
of all brooded that mysterious Presence upon the altar, which drew the
passion of Catholic hearts to itself in ever deeper measure as the
great days of Holy Week and Easter approached.
Through all this drama of an inventive and exacting faith, Laura
Fountain passed like a being from another world, an alien and a mocking
spirit. She said nothing, but her eyes were satires. The effect of her
presence in the house was felt probably by all its inmates, and by many
of its visitors. She did not again express herself—except rarely to
Augustina—with the vehemence she had shown to the little lame orphan;
she was quite ready to chat and laugh upon occasion with Father
Leadham, who had a pleasant wit, and now and then deliberately sought
her society; and, owing to the feebleness of Augustina, she, quite
unconsciously, established certain household ways which spoke the
woman, and were new to Bannisdale. She filled the drawing-room with
daffodils; she made the tea-table by the hall fire a cheerful place for
any who might visit it; she flitted about the house in the prettiest
and neatest of spring dresses; her hair, her face, her white hands and
neck shone amid the shadows of the panelling like jewels in a casket.
Everyone was conscious of her—uneasily conscious. She yielded herself
to no one, was touched by no one. She stood apart, and through her
cold, light ways spoke the world and the spirit that deny—the world at
which the Catholic shudders.
At the same time, like everybody else in the house—even the sulky
housekeeper—she grew pale and thin from Lenten fare. Mr. Helbeck had
of course given orders to Mrs. Denton that his sister and Miss Fountain
were to be well provided. But Mrs. Denton was grudging or forgetful;
and it amused Laura to see that Augustina was made to eat, while she
herself fared with the rest. The viands of whatever sort were generally
scanty and ill-cooked; and neither the Squire nor Father Leadham cared
anything about the pleasures of the table, in Lent or out of it. Mr.
Helbeck hardly noticed what was set before him. Once or twice indeed he
woke up to the fact that there was not enough for the ladies and would
say an angry word to Mrs. Denton. But on the whole Laura was able to
follow her whim and to try for herself what this Catholic austerity
might be like.
“My dear,” she wrote to her friend, “one thing you learn from a
Catholic Lent is that food matters 'nowt at aw,' as they would say in
these parts. You can do just as well without it as with it. Why you
should think yourself a saint for not eating it puzzles me. Otherwise—
vive la faim! And as we are none of us likely to starve ourselves
half so much as the poor people of the world, the soldiers, and
sailors, and explorers, are always doing, to please themselves or their
country, I don't suppose that anybody will come to harm.
“You are to understand, nevertheless, that our austerities are
rather unusual. And when anyone comes in from the outside they are
concealed as much as possible.... The old Helbecks, as far as I can
hear, must have been very different people from their modern
descendant. They were quite good Catholics, understand. What the Church
prescribed they did—but not a fraction beyond. They were like the
jolly lazy sort of schoolboy, who just does his lesson, but
would think himself a fool if he did a word more. Whereas the man who
lives here now can never do enough!
“And in general these old Catholic houses—from Augustina's
tales—must have been full of fun and feasting. Well, I can vouch for
it, there is no fun in Bannisdale now! It is Mr. Helbeck's personality,
I suppose. It makes its own atmosphere. He can laugh—I have
seen it myself!—but it is an event.”
* * * * *
As Lent went on, the mingling of curiosity and cool criticism with
which Miss Fountain regarded her surroundings became perhaps more
apparent. Father Leadham, in particular, detected the young lady's
fasting experiments. He spoke of them to Helbeck as showing a lack of
delicacy and good taste. But the Squire, it seemed, was rather inclined
to regard them as the whims of a spoilt and wilful child.
This difference of shade in the judgment of the two men may rank as
one of the first signs of all that was to come.
Certainly Helbeck had never before felt himself so uncomfortable in
his own house as he had done since the arrival of this girl of
twenty-one. Nevertheless, as the weeks went on, the half-amused,
half-contemptuous embarrassment, which had been the first natural
effect of her presence upon the mind of a man so little used to women
and their ways, had passed imperceptibly into something else. His
reserved and formal manner remained the same. But Miss Fountain's
goings and comings had ceased to be indifferent to him. A silent
relation—still unknown to her—had arisen between them.
When he first noticed the fact in himself, it produced a strong,
temporary reaction. He reproached himself for a light and unworthy
temper. Had his solitary life so weakened him that any new face and
personality about him could distract and disturb him, even amid the
great thoughts of these solemn days? His heart, his life were in his
faith. For more than twenty years, by prayer and meditation, by all the
ingenious means that the Catholic Church provides, he had developed the
sensibilities of faith; and for the Catholic these sensibilities are
centred upon and sustained by the Passion. Now, hour by hour, his Lord
was moving to the Cross. He stood perpetually beside the sacred form in
the streets of Jerusalem, in Gethsemane, on the steps of the
Praetorium. A varied and dramatic ceremonial was always at hand to
stimulate the imagination, the penitence, and the devotion of the
believer. That anything whatever should break in upon the sacred
absorption of these days would have seemed to him beforehand a calamity
to be shrunk from—nay, a sin to be repented. He had put aside all
business that could be put aside with one object, and one only—to make
“a good Easter.”
And yet, no sooner did he come back from service in the chapel, or
from talk of Church matters with Catholic friends, than he found
himself suddenly full of expectation. Was Miss Fountain in the hall, in
the garden? or was she gone to those people at Browhead? If she was not
in the house—above all, if she was with the Masons—he would find it
hard to absorb himself again in the thoughts that had held him before.
If she was there, if he found her sitting reading or working by the
hall fire, with the dogs at her feet, he seldom indeed went to speak to
her. He would go into his library, and force himself to do his
business, while Father Leadham talked to her and Augustina. But the
library opened on the hall, and he could still hear that voice in the
distance. Often, when she caressed the dogs, her tones had the note in
them which had startled him on her very first evening under his roof.
It was the emergence of something hidden and passionate; and it awoke
in himself a strange and troubling echo—the passing surge of an old
memory long since thrust down and buried. How fast his youth was going
from him! It was fifteen years since a woman's voice, a woman's
presence, had mattered anything at all to him.
So it came about that, in some way or other, he knew, broadly, all
that Miss Fountain did, little as he saw of her. It appeared that she
had discovered a pony carriage for hire in the little village near the
bridge, and once or twice during this fortnight, he learned from
Augustina that she had spent the afternoon at Browhead Farm, while the
Bannisdale household had been absorbed in some function of the season.
Augustina disliked the news as much as he did, and would throw up
her hands in annoyance.
“What can she be doing there? They seem the roughest kind of
people. But she says the son plays so wonderfully. I believe she plays
duets with him. She goes out with the cart full of music.”
“Music!” said Helbeck, in frank amazement. “That lout!”
“Well, she says so,” said Augustina crossly, as though it were a
personal affront. “And what do you think, Alan? She talks of going to a
dance up there after Easter—next Thursday, I think.”
“At the farm?” Helbeck's tone was incredulous.
“No; at the mill—or somewhere. She says the schoolmaster is giving
it, or something of that sort. Of course it's most unsuitable. But what
am I to do, Alan? They are her relations!”
“At the same time they are not her class,” said Helbeck decidedly.
“She has been brought up in a different way, and she cannot behave as
though she belonged to them. And a dance, with that young man to look
after her! You ought to stop it.”
Augustina said dismally that she would try, but her head shook with
more feebleness than usual as she went back to her knitting.
* * * * *
Next day Helbeck made a point of finding his sister alone. But she
only threw him a deprecatory look.
“I tried, Alan—indeed I did. She says that she wants some
amusement—that it will do her good—and that of course her father
would have let her go to a dance with his relations. And when I say
anything to her about not being quite like them, she fires up. She says
she would be ashamed to be thought any better than they, and that
Hubert has a great deal more good in him than some people think.”
“Hubert!” exclaimed Mr. Helbeck, raising his shoulders in disgust.
After a little silence he turned round as he was leaving the room, and
said abruptly: “Is she to stay the night at the farm?”
“No! oh, no! She wants to come home. She says she won't be late; she
promises not to be late.”
“And that young fellow will drive her home, of course?”
“Well, she couldn't drive home alone, Alan, at that time of night.
It wouldn't be proper.”
Mr. Helbeck smiled rather sourly. “One may doubt where the propriety
comes in. Well, she seems determined. We must just arrange it. There is
the tower door. Kindly tell her, Augustina, that I will let her have
the key of it. And kindly tell her also—as from yourself, of
course—that she will be treating us all with courtesy if she does come
home at a reasonable hour. We have been a very quiet, prim household
all these years, and Mrs. Denton, for all her virtues, has a tongue.”
“So she has,” said Augustina, sighing. “And she doesn't like
Laura—not at all.”
Helbeck raised his head quickly. “She does nothing to make Miss
Fountain uncomfortable, I trust?”
“Oh—no,” said Augustina undecidedly. “Besides, it doesn't matter.
Laura has got Ellen under her thumb.”
Helbeck's grave countenance showed a gleam of amusement.
“How does Mrs. Denton take that?”
“Oh! she has to bear it. Haven't you seen, Alan, how the girl has
brightened up? Laura has shown her how to do her hair; she helped her
to make a new frock for Easter; the girl would do anything in the world
for her. It's like Bruno. Do you notice, Alan—I really thought you
would be angry—that the dog will hardly go with you when Laura's
“Oh! Miss Fountain is a very attractive young lady—to those she
likes,” said Helbeck dryly.
And on that he went away.
On Good Friday afternoon Laura, in a renewed passion of revolt
against all that was going on in the house, went to her room and wrote
to her friend. Litanies were being said in the chapel. The distant,
melancholy sounds mounted to her now and then. Otherwise the house was
wrapped in a mourning silence; and outside, trailing clouds hung round
the old walls, making a penitential barrier all about it.
“After this week,” wrote Laura to her friend, “I shall always feel
kindly towards 'sin'—and the 'world'! How they have been scouted and
scourged! And what, I ask you, would any of us do without them? The
'world,' indeed! I seem to hear it go rumbling on, the poor, patient,
toiling thing, while these people are praying. It works, and makes it
possible for them to pray—while they abuse and revile it.
“And as to 'sin,' and the gloom in which we all live because of
it—what on earth does it really mean to any decently taught and
brought-up creature? You are greedy, or selfish, or idle, or
ill-behaved. Very well, then—nature, or your next-door neighbor,
knocks you down for it, and serve you right. Next time you won't do it
again, or not so badly, and by degrees you don't even like to think of
doing it—you would be 'ashamed,' as people say. It's the process that
everybody has to go through, I suppose—being sent into the world the
sort of beings we are, and without any leave of ours, altogether. But
why make such a wailing and woe and hullabaloo about it! Oh—such a
waste of time! Why doesn't Mr. Helbeck go and learn geology? I vow he
hasn't an idea what the rocks of his own valley are made of!
“Of course there are the very great villains—I don't like to
think about them. And the people who are born wrong and sick. But
by-and-by we shall have weeded them out, or improved the breed. And why
not spend your energies on doing that, instead of singing litanies, and
taking ridiculous pains not to eat the things you like?
“...I shall soon be in disgrace with Augustina and Mr. Helbeck,
about the Masons—worse disgrace, that is to say. For now that I have
found a pony of my own, I go up there two or three times a week. And
really—in spite of all those first experiences I told you of—I like
it! Cousin Elizabeth has begun to talk to me; and when I come home, I
read the Bible to see what it was all about. And I don't let her say
too bad things about Mr. Helbeck—it wouldn't be quite gentlemanly on
my part. And I know most of the Williams story now, both from her and
“Imagine, my dear!—a son not allowed to come and see his mother
before she died, though she cried for him night and day. He was at a
Jesuit school in Wales. They shilly-shallied, and wrote endless
letters—and at last they sent him off—the day she died. He arrived
three hours too late, and his father shut the door in his face. 'Noa
yo' shan't see her,' said the grim old fellow—'an if there's a God
above, yo' shan't see her in heaven nayder!' Augustina of course calls
it 'holy obedience.'
“The painting in the chapel is really extraordinary. Mr. Helbeck
seems to have taught the young man, to begin with. He himself used to
paint long ago—not very well, I should think, to judge from the bits
of his work still left in the chapel. But at any rate the youth learnt
the rudiments from him, and then of course went far beyond his teacher.
He was almost two years here, working in the house—tabooed by his
family all the time. Then there seems to have been a year in London,
when he gave Mr. Helbeck some trouble. I don't know—Augustina is
vague. How it was that he joined the Jesuits I can't make out. No doubt
Mr. Helbeck induced them to take him. But why—I ask you—with
such a gift? They say he will be here in the summer, and one will have
to set one's teeth and shake hands with him.
“Oh, that droning in the chapel—there it is again! I will open the
window and let the howl of the rain in to get rid of it. And yet I
can't always keep myself away from it. It is all so new—so horribly
intimate. Every now and then the music or a prayer or something sends a
stab right down to my heart of hearts.—A voice of suffering, of
torture—oh! so ghastly, so real. Then I come and read papa's
note-books for an hour to forget it. I wish he had ever taught me
anything—strictly! But of course it was my fault.
“... As to this dance, why shouldn't I go?—just tell me! It is
being given by the new schoolmaster, and two or three young farmers, in
the big room at the old mill. The schoolmaster is the most tiresomely
virtuous young man, and the whole thing is so respectable, it makes me
yawn to think of it. Polly implores me to go, and I like Polly. (Very
soon she'll let me halve her fringe!) I gave Hubert a preliminary snub,
and now he doesn't dare implore me to go. But that is all the more
engaging. I don't flirt with him!—heavens!—unless you call
bear-taming flirtation. But one can't see his music running to waste in
such a bog of tantrums and tempers. I must try my hand. And as he is my
cousin I can put up with him.”
* * * * *
After High Mass on Easter Sunday Helbeck walked home from Whinthorpe
alone, as his companion Father Leadham had an engagement in the town.
Through the greater part of Holy Week the skies had been as grey and
penitential as the season. The fells and the river flats had been
scourged at night with torrents of rain and wind, and in the pale
mornings any passing promise of sun had been drowned again before the
day was high. The roofs and eaves, the small panes of the old house,
trickled and shone with rain; and at night the wind tore through the
gorge of the river with great boomings and onslaughts from the west.
But with Easter eve there had come appeasement—a quiet dying of the
long storm. And as Helbeck made his way along the river on Easter
morning, mountain and flood, grass and tree, were in a glory of
recovered sun. The distant fells were drawn upon the sky in the
heavenliest brushings of blue and purple; the river thundered over its
falls and weirs in a foamy splendour; and the deer were feeding with a
new zest amid the fast-greening grass.
He stopped a moment to rest upon his stick and look about him.
Something in his own movement reminded him of another solitary walk
some five weeks before. And at the same instant he perceived a small
figure sitting on a stone seat in front of him. It was Miss Fountain.
She had a book on her knee, and the two dogs were beside her. Her white
dress and hat seemed to make the centre of a whole landscape. The river
bent inward in a great sweep at her feet, the crag rose behind her, and
the great prospect beyond the river of dale and wood, of scar and
cloud, seemed spread there for her eyes alone. A strange fancy seized
on Helbeck. This was his world—his world by inheritance and by love.
Five weeks before he had walked about it as a solitary. And now this
figure sat enthroned, as it were, at the heart of it. He roughly shook
the fancy off and walked on.
Miss Fountain greeted him with her usual detachment. He stood a
minute or two irresolute, then threw himself on the slope in front of
“Bruno will hardly look at his master now,” he said to her
pleasantly, pointing to the dog's attitude as it lay with its nose upon
the hem of her dress.
Laura closed her book in some annoyance. He usually returned by the
other side of the river, and she was not grateful to him for his breach
of habit. Why had he been meddling in her affairs? She perfectly
understood why Augustina had been making herself so difficult about the
dance, and about the Masons in general. Let him keep his proprieties to
himself. She, Laura, had nothing to do with them. She was hardly his
guest—still less his ward. She had come to Bannisdale against her
will, simply and solely as Augustina's nurse. In return, let Mr.
Helbeck leave her alone to enjoy her plebeian relations as she pleased.
Nevertheless, of course she must be civil; and civil she
intermittently tried to be. She answered his remark about Bruno by a
caress to the dog that brought him to lay his muzzle against her knee.
“Do you mind? Some people do mind. I can easily drive him away.”
“Oh, no! I reckon on recovering him—some day,” he said, with a
“Very soon, I should think. Have you noticed, Mr. Helbeck, how much
better Augustina is already? I believe that by the end of the summer,
at least, she will be able to do without me. And she tells me that the
Superior at the orphanage has a girl to recommend her as a companion
when I go.”
“Rather officious of the Reverend Mother, I think,” said Helbeck
sharply. He paused a moment, then added with some emphasis, “Don't
imagine, Miss Fountain, that anybody else can do for my sister what you
“Ah! but—well—one must live one's life—mustn't one,
Fricka?”—Fricka was by this time jealously pawing her dress. “I want
to work at my music—hard—this winter.”
“And I fear that Bannisdale is not a very gay place for a young lady
He smiled. And so did she; though his tone, with its shade of proud
humility, embarrassed her.
“It is as beautiful as a dream!” she said, with sudden energy,
throwing up her little hand. And he turned to look, as she was looking,
at the river and the woods.
“You feel the beauty of it so much?” he asked her, wondering. His
own strong feeling for his native place was all a matter of old habit
and association. The flash of wild pleasure in her face astounded him.
There was in it that fiery, tameless something that was the girl's
distinguishing mark, her very soul and self. Was it beginning to speak
from her blood to his?
She nodded, then laughed.
“But, of course, it isn't my business to live here. I have a great
friend—a Cambridge girl—and we have arranged it all. We are to live
together, and travel a great deal, and work at music.”
“That is what young ladies do nowadays, I understand.”
“And why not?”
He lifted his shoulders, as though to decline the answer, and was
silent—so silent that she was forced at last to take the field.
“Don't you approve of 'new women,' Mr. Helbeck? Oh! I wish I was a
new woman,” she threw out defiantly. “But I'm not good enough—I don't
“I wasn't thinking of them,” he said simply. “I was thinking of the
life that women used to live here, in this place, in the past—of my
mother and my grandmother.”
She could not help a stir of interest. What might the Catholic women
of Bannisdale have been like? She looked along the path that led
downward to the house, and seemed to see their figures upon it—not
short and sickly like Augustina, but with the morning in their eyes and
on their white brows, like the Romney lady. Helbeck's thoughts
meanwhile were peopled by the more solid forms of memory.
“You remember the picture?” he said at last, breaking the silence.
“The husband of that lady was a boor and a gambler. He soon broke her
heart. But her children consoled her to some extent, especially the
daughters, several of whom became nuns. The poor wife came from a large
Lancashire family, but she hardly saw her relations after her marriage;
she was ashamed of her husband's failings and of their growing poverty.
She became very shy and solitary, and very devout. These rock-seats
along the river were placed by her. It is said that she used in summer
to spend long hours on that very seat where you are sitting, doing
needlework, or reading the Little Office of the Virgin, at the hours
when her daughters in their French convent would be saying their office
in chapel. She died before her husband, a very meek, broken creature. I
have a little book of her meditations, that she wrote out by the wish
of her confessor.
“Then my grandmother—ah! well, that is too long a story. She was a
Frenchwoman—we have some of her books in my study. She never got on
with England and English people—and at last, after her husband's
death, she never went outside the house and park. My father owed much
of his shyness and oddity to her bringing up. When she felt herself
dying she went over to her family to die at Nantes. She is buried
there; and my father was sent to the Jesuit school at Nantes for a long
time. Then my mother—But I mustn't bore you with these family tales.”
He turned to look at his listener. Laura was by this time half
embarrassed, half touched.
“I should like to hear about your mother,” she said rather stiffly.
“You may talk to me if you like, but don't, pray, presume upon
it!”—that was what her manner said.
Helbeck smiled a little, unseen, under his black moustache.
“My mother was a great lover of books—the only Helbeck, I think,
that ever read anything. She was a friend and correspondent of Cardinal
Wiseman's—and she tried to make a family history out of the papers
here. But in her later years she was twisted and crippled by rheumatic
gout—her poor fingers could not turn the pages. I used to help her
sometimes; but we none of us shared her tastes. She was a very happy
Happy! Why? Laura felt a fresh prick of irritation as he paused. Was
she never to escape—not even here, in the April sun, beside the river
bank! For, of course, what all this meant was that the really virtuous
and admirable woman does not roam the world in search of art and
friendship; she makes herself happy at home with religion and rheumatic
But Helbeck resumed. And instantly it struck her that he had dropped
a sentence, and was taking up the thread further on.
“But there was no priest in the house then, for the Society could
not spare us one; and very few services in the chapel. Through all her
young days nothing could be poorer or raggeder than English
Catholicism. There was no church at Whinthorpe. Sunday after Sunday my
father used to read the prayers in the chapel, which was half a
lumber-room. I often think no Dissent could have been barer; but we
heard Mass when we could, and that was enough for us. One of the
priests from Stonyhurst came when she died. This is her little missal.”
He raised it from the grass—a small volume bound in faded
morocco—but he did not offer to show it to Miss Fountain, and she felt
no inclination to ask for it.
“Why did they live so much alone?” she asked him, with a little
frown. “I suppose there were always neighbours?”
He shook his head.
“A difference that has law and education besides religion behind it,
goes deep. Times are changed, but it goes deep still.”
There was a pause. Then she looked at him with a whimsical lifting
of her brows.
“Bannisdale was not amusing?” she said.
He laughed good-humouredly. “Not for a woman, certainly. For a man,
yes. There was plenty of rough sport and card-playing, and a good deal
of drinking. The men were full of character, often full of ability. But
there was no outlet—and a wretched education. My great-grandfather
might have been saved by a commission in the army. But the law forbade
it him. So they lived to themselves and by themselves; they didn't
choose to live with their Protestant neighbours—who had made them
outlaws and inferiors! And, of course, they sank in manners and
refinement. You may see the results in all the minor Catholic families
to this day—that is, the old families. The few great houses that
remained faithful escaped many of the drawbacks of the position. The
smaller ones suffered, and succumbed. But they had their
As he spoke he rose from the grass, and the dogs, springing up,
barked joyously about him.
“Augustina will be waiting dinner for us, I think.”
Laura, who had meant to stay behind, saw that she was expected to
walk home with him. She rose unwillingly, and moved on beside him.
“Their compensations?” That meant the Mass and all the rest of this
tyrannous clinging religion. What did it honestly mean to Mr.
Helbeck—to anybody? She remembered her father's rough laugh. “There
are twelve hundred men, my dear, belonging to the Athenaeum Club. I
give you the bishops. After them, what do you suppose religion has to
say to the rest of the twelve hundred? How many of them ever give a
thought to it?”
She raised her eyes, furtively, to Helbeck's face. In spite of its
melancholy lines, she had lately begun to see that its fundamental
expression was a contented one. That, no doubt, came from the
“compensations.” But to-day there was more. She was positively startled
by his look of happiness as he strode silently along beside her. It was
all the more striking because of the plain traces left upon him by
Lenten fatigue and “mortification.”
It was Easter day, and she supposed he had come from Communion.
A little shiver passed through her, caused by the recollection of
words she had heard, acts of which she had been a witness, in the
chapel during the foregoing week—words and acts of emotion, of
abandonment—love crying to love. A momentary thirst seized her—an
instant's sense of privation, of longing, gone almost as soon as it had
Helbeck turned to her.
“So this dance you are going to is on Thursday?” he said pleasantly.
She came to herself in a moment.
“Yes, on Thursday, at eight. I shall go early. I have engaged a fly
to take me to the farm—thank you!—and my cousins will see me home. I
am obliged to you for the key. It will save my giving any trouble.”
“If you did we should not grudge it,” he said quietly.
She was silent for a few more steps, then she said:
“I quite understand, Mr. Helbeck, that you do not approve of my
going. But I must judge for myself. The Masons are my own people. I am
sorry they should have——Well—I don't understand—but it seems you
have reason to think badly of them.”
“Not of them,” he said with emphasis.
“Of my cousin Hubert, then?”
He made no answer. She coloured angrily, then broke out, her words
tumbling childishly over one another:
“There are a great many things said of Hubert that I don't believe
he deserves! He has a great many good tastes—his music is wonderful.
At any rate, he is my cousin; they are papa's only relations in the
world. He would have been kind to Hubert; and he would have despised me
if I turned my back on them because I was staying in a grand house with
“Grand people!” said Helbeck, raising his eyebrows. “But I am sorry
I led you to say these things, Miss Fountain. Excuse me—may I open
this gate for you?”
She reached her own room as quickly as possible, and dropped upon
the chair beside her dressing-table in a whirl of angry feeling. A
small and heated face looked out upon her from the glass. But after the
first instinctive moment she took no notice of it. With the mind's eye
she still saw the figure she had just parted from, the noble poise of
the head, thrown back on the broad shoulders, the black and greys of
the hair, the clear penetrating glance—all the slight signs of age and
austerity that had begun to filch away the Squire's youth. It was at
least ten minutes before she could free herself enough from the
unwelcome memories of her walk to find a vindictive pleasure in running
hastily to look at her one white dress—all she had to wear at the
* * * * *
On Thursday afternoon Helbeck was fishing in the park. The sea-trout
were coming up, the day was soft, and he had done well. But just as the
evening rise was beginning he put up his rod and went home. Father
Leadham had taken his departure. Augustina, Miss Fountain, and he were
again alone in the house.
He went into his study, and left the door open, while he busied
himself with some writing.
Presently Augustina put her head in. She looked dishevelled, and
rather pinker than usual, as always happened when there was the
smallest disturbance of her routine.
“Laura has just gone up to dress, Alan. Is it fine?”
“There is no rain,” he said, without turning his head. “Don't shut
the door, please. This fire is oppressive.”
She went away, and he wrote on a little while—then listened. He
heard hurrying feet and movements overhead, and presently a door opened
hastily, and a voice exclaimed, “Just two or three, you know,
Ellen—from that corner under the kitchen-window! Run, there's a good
And there was a clattering noise as Ellen ran down the front stairs,
and then flew along the corridor to the garden-door.
In a minute she was back again, and as she passed his room Helbeck
saw that she was carrying a bunch of white narcissus.
Then more sounds of laughter and chatter overhead. At last Augustina
hurried down and looked in upon him again, flurried and smiling.
“Alan, you really must see her. She looks so pretty.”
“I am afraid I'm busy,” he said, still writing. And she retired
disappointed, careful, however, to follow his wishes about the door.
“Augustina, hold Bruno!” cried a light voice suddenly. “If he jumps
on me I'm done for!”
A swish of soft skirts and she was there—in the hall. Helbeck could
see her quite plainly as she stood by the oak table in her white dress.
There was just room at the throat of it for a pearl necklace, and at
the wrists for some thin gold bracelets. The narcissus were in her
hair, which she had coiled and looped in a wonderful way, so that
Helbeck's eyes were dazzled by its colour and abundance, and by the
whiteness of the slender neck below it. She meanwhile was quite
unconscious of his neighbourhood, and he saw that she was all in a
happy flutter, hastily putting on her gloves, and chattering
alternately to Augustina and to the transformed Ellen, who stood in
speechless admiration behind her, holding a cloak.
“There, Ellen, that'll do. You're a darling—and the flowers are
perfect. Run now, and tell Mrs. Denton that I didn't keep you more than
twenty minutes. Oh, yes, Augustina, I'm quite warm. I can't choke,
dear, even to please you. There now—here goes! If you do lock me out,
there's a corner under the bridge, quite snug. My dress will mind—I
shan't. Good-night. My compliments to Mr. Helbeck.”
Then a hasty kiss to Augustina and she was gone.
Helbeck went out into the hall. Augustina was standing on the steps,
watching the departing fly. At the sight of her brother she turned back
to him, her poor little face aglow.
“She did look so nice, Alan! I wish she had gone to a proper dance,
and not to these odd farmers and people. Why, they'll all go in their
high dresses, and think her stuck-up.”
“I assure you I never saw anything so smart as Miss Mason at the
hunt ball,” said Helbeck. “Did you give her the key, Augustina? But I
shall probably sit up. There are some Easter accounts that must be
* * * * *
The old clock in the hall struck one. Helbeck was sitting in his
familiar chair before the log fire, which he had just replenished. In
one hand was a life of St. Philip Neri, the other played absently with
Bruno's ears. In truth he was not reading but listening.
Suddenly there was a sound. He turned his head, and saw that the
door leading from the hall to the tower staircase, and thence to the
kitchen regions, had been opened.
“Who's there?” he said in astonishment.
Mrs. Denton appeared.
“You, Denton! What are you up for at this time?”
“I came to see if the yoong lady had coom back,” she said in a low
voice, and with her most forbidding manner. “It's late, and I heard
“Late? Not at all! Go to bed, Denton, at once; Miss Fountain will be
“I'm not sleepy; I can wait for her,” said the housekeeper,
advancing a step or two into the hall. “You mun be tired, sir, and
should take your rest.”
“I'm not the least tired, thank you. Good-night. Let me recommend
you to go to bed as quickly as possible.”
Mrs. Denton lingered for a moment, as though in hesitation, then
went with a sulky unwillingness that was very evident to her master.
Helbeck laid down his book on his knee with a little laugh.
“She would have liked to get in a scolding, but we won't give her
The reverie that followed was not a very pleasant one. He seemed to
see Miss Fountain in the large rustic room, with a bevy of young men
about her—young fellows in Sunday coats, with shiny hair and limbs
bursting out of their ill-fitting clothes. There would be loud talking
and laughter, rough jokes that would make her wince, compliments that
would disgust her—they not knowing how to take her, nor she them. She
would be wholly out of her place—a butt for impertinence—perhaps
worse. And there would be a certain sense of dragging a lady from her
sphere—of making free with the old house and the old family.
He thought of it with disgust. He was an aristocrat to his fingers'
But how could it have been helped? And when he remembered her as she
stood there in the hall, so young and pretty, so eager for her
pleasure, he said to himself with sudden heartiness:
“Nonsense! I hope the child has enjoyed herself.” It was the first
time that, even in his least formal thoughts, he had applied such a
word to her.
Silence again. The wind breathed gently round the house. He could
hear the river rushing.
Once he thought there was a sound of wheels and he went to the outer
door, but there was nothing. Overhead the stars shone, and along the
track of the river lay a white mist.
As he was turning back to the hall, however, he heard voices from
the mist—a loud man's voice, then a little cry as of some one in
fright or anger, then a song. The rollicking tune of it shouted into
the night, into the stately stillness that surrounded the old house,
had the abruptest, unseemliest effect.
Helbeck ran down the steps. A dog-cart with lights approached the
gateway in the low stone enclosure before the house. It shot through so
fast and so awkwardly as to graze the inner post. There was another
little cry. Then, with various lurches and lunges, the cart drove round
the gravel, and brought up somewhere near the steps.
Hubert Mason jumped down.
“Who's that? Mr. Helbeck? O Lord! glad to see yer, I'm sure! There's
that little silly—she's been making such a' fuss all the way—thought
I was going to upset her into the river, I do believe. She would try
and get at the reins, though I told her it was the worst thing to do,
whatever—to be interfering with the driver. Lord! I thought she'd have
used the whip to me!”
And Mason stood beside the shafts, with his arms on the side,
laughing loudly and looking at Laura.
“Stand out of the way, sir!” said Helbeck sternly, “and let me help
“Oh! I say!—Come now, I'm not going to stand you coming it over me
twice in the same sort—not I,” cried the young man with a violent
change of tone. “You get out of the way, d—mn you! I brought
Miss Fountain home, and she's my cousin—so there!—not yours.”
“Hubert, go away at once!” said Laura's shaking but imperious voice.
“I prefer that Mr. Helbeck should help me.”
She had risen and was clinging to the rail of the dog-cart, while
her face drooped so that Helbeck could not see it.
Mason stepped back with another oath, caught his foot in the reins,
which he had carelessly left hanging, and fell on his knees on the
“No matter,” said Helbeck, seeing that Laura paused in terror. “Give
me your hand, Miss Fountain.”
She slipped on the step in the darkness, and Helbeck caught her and
set her on her feet.
“Go in, please. I will look after him.”
She ran up the steps, then turned to look.
Mason, still swearing and muttering, had some difficulty in getting
up. Helbeck stood by till he had risen and disentangled the reins.
“If you don't drive carefully down the park in the fog you'll come
to harm,” he said, shortly, as Mason mounted to his seat.
“That's none of your business,” said Mason sulkily. “I brought my
cousin all right—I suppose I can take myself. Now, come up, will you!”
He struck the pony savagely on the back with the reins. The tired
animal started forward; the cart swayed again from side to side.
Helbeck held his breath as it passed the gate-posts; but it shaved
through, and soon nothing but the gallop of retreating hoofs could be
heard through the night.
He mounted the steps, and shut and barred the outer door. When he
entered the hall, Laura was sitting by the oak table, one hand
supporting and hiding her face, the other hanging listlessly beside
She struggled to her feet as he came in. The hood of her blue cloak
had fallen backwards, and her hair was in confusion round her face and
neck. Her cheeks were very white, and there were tears in her eyes. She
had never seemed to him so small, so childish, or so lovely.
He took no notice of her agitation or of her efforts to speak. He
went to a tray of wine and biscuits that had been left by his orders on
a side-table, and poured out some wine.
“No, I don't want it,” she said, waving it away. “I don't know what
“You would do best to take it,” he said, interrupting her.
His quiet insistence overcame her, and she drank it. It gave her
back her voice and a little colour. She bit her lip, and looked after
Helbeck as he walked away to the farther end of the hall to light a
candle for her.
“Mr. Helbeck,” she began as he came near. Then she gathered force.
“You must—you ought to let me apologise.”
“For what? I am afraid you had a disagreeable and dangerous drive
home. Would you like me to wake one of the servants—Ellen,
perhaps—and tell her to come to you?”
“Oh! you won't let me say what I ought to say,” she exclaimed in
despair. “That my cousin should have behaved like this—should have
“No! no!” he said with some peremptoriness. “Your cousin insulted
you by daring to drive with you in such a state. That is all that
matters to me—or should, I think, matter to you. Will you have your
candle, and shall I call anyone?”
She shook her head and moved towards the staircase, he accompanying
her. When he saw how feebly she walked, he was on the point of asking
her to take his arm and let him help her to her room; but he refrained.
At the foot of the stairs she paused. Her “good-night” died in her
throat as she offered her hand. Her dejection, her girlish shame, made
her inexpressibly attractive to him; it was the first time he had ever
seen her with all her arms thrown down. But he said nothing. He bade
her good-night with a cheerful courtesy, and, returning to the hall
fire, he stood beside it till he heard the distant shutting of her
Then he sank back into his chair and sat motionless, with knitted
brows, for nearly an hour, staring into the caverns of the fire.
Laura awoke very early the following morning, but though the sun was
bright outside, it brought no gaiety to her. The night before she had
hurried her undressing, that she might bury herself in her pillow as
quickly as possible, and force sleep to come to her. It was her natural
instinct in the face of pain or humiliation. To escape from it by any
summary method was always her first thought. “I will, I must go to
sleep!” she had said to herself, in a miserable fury with herself and
fate; and by the help of an intense exhaustion sleep came.
But in the morning she could do herself no more violence. Memory
took its course, and a very disquieting course it was. She sat up in
bed, with her hands round her knees, thinking not only of all the
wretched and untoward incidents connected with the ball, but of the
whole three weeks that had gone before it. What had she been doing, how
had she been behaving, that this odious youth should have dared to
treat her in such a way?
Fricka jumped up beside her, and Laura held the dog's nose against
her cheek for comfort, while she confessed herself. Oh! what a fool she
had been. Why, pray, had she been paying all these visits to the farm,
and spending all these hours in this young fellow's company? Her quick
intelligence unravelled all the doubtful skein. Yearning towards her
kindred?—yes, there had been something of that. Recoil from the
Bannisdale ways, an angry eagerness to scout them and fly them?—yes,
that there had always been in plenty. But she dived deeper into her
self-disgust, and brought up the real bottom truth, disagreeable and
hateful as it was: mere excitement about a young man, as a young
man—mere love of power over a great hulking fellow whom other people
found unmanageable! Aye, there it was, in spite of all the glosses she
had put upon it in her letters to Molly Friedland. All through, she had
known perfectly well that Hubert Mason was not her equal; that on a
number of subjects he had vulgar habits and vulgar ideas; that he often
expressed his admiration for her in a way she ought to have resented.
There were whole sides of him, indeed, that she shrank from
exploring—that she wanted, nay, was determined, to know nothing about.
On the other hand, her young daring, for want of any better prey,
had taken pleasure from the beginning in bringing him under her yoke.
With her second visit to the farm she saw that she could make him her
slave—that she had only to show him a little flattery, a little
encouragement, and he would be as submissive and obedient to her as he
was truculent and ill-tempered towards the rest of the world. And her
vanity had actually plumed itself on so poor a prey! One excuse—yes,
there was the one excuse! With her he had shown the side that she alone
of his kindred could appreciate. But for the fear of Cousin Elizabeth
she could have kept him hanging over the piano hour after hour while
she played, in a passion of delight. Here was common ground. Nay, in
native power he was her superior, though she, with her better musical
training, could help and correct him in a thousand ways. She had the
woman's passion for influence; and he seemed like wax in her hands. Why
not help him to education and refinement, to the cultivation of the
best that was in him? She would persuade Cousin Elizabeth—alter and
amend his life for him—and Mr. Helbeck should see that there were
better ways of dealing with people than by looking down upon them and
And now the very thought of these vain and silly dreams set her face
aflame. Power over him? Let her only remember the humiliations, through
which she had been dragged! All the dance came back upon her—the
strange people, the strange young men, the strange, raftered room, with
the noise of the mill-stream and the weir vibrating through it, and
mingling with the chatter of the fiddles. But she had been determined
to enjoy it, to give herself no airs, to forget with all her might that
she was anyway different from these dale-folk, whose blood was hers.
And with the older people all had been easy. With the elderly women
especially, in their dark gowns and large Sunday collars, she had felt
herself at home; again and again she had put herself under their wing,
while in their silent way they turned their shrewd motherly eyes upon
her, and took stock of her and every detail of her dress. And the old
men, with their patriarchal manners and their broad speech—it had been
all sweet and pleasant to her. “Noo, Miss, they tell ma as yo'.are
Stephen Fountain's dowter. An I mut meak bold ter cum an speak to thee,
for a knew 'un when he was a lile lad.” Or “Yo'll gee ma your hand,
Miss Fountain, for we're pleased and proud to git, yo' here. Yer
fadther an mea gaed to skule togedther. My worrd, but he was parlish
cliver! An I daursay as you teak afther him.” Kind folk! with all the
signs of their hard and simple life about them.
But the young men—how she had hated them!—whether they were shy,
or whether they were bold; whether they romped with their sweethearts,
and laughed at their own jokes like bulls of Bashan, or whether they
wore their best clothes as though the garments burnt them, and danced
the polka in a perspiring and anguished silence! No; she was not of
their class, thank Heaven! She never wished to be. One man had
asked her to put a pin in his collar; another had spilt a cup of coffee
over her white dress; a third had confided to her that his young lady
was “that luvin” to him in public, he had been fair obliged to bid her
“keep hersel to hersel afore foak.” The only partner with whom it had
given her the smallest pleasure to dance had been the schoolmaster and
principal host of the evening, a tall, sickly young man, who wore
spectacles and talked through his nose. But he talked of things she
understood, and he danced tolerably. Alas! there had come the rub.
Hubert Mason had stood sentinel beside her during the early part of the
evening. He had assumed the proudest and most exclusive airs with
regard to her, and his chief aim seemed to be to impress upon her the
prestige he enjoyed among his fellows as a football player and an
athlete. In the end his patronage and his boasting had become
insupportable to a girl of any spirit. And his dancing! It seemed to
her that he held her before him like a shield, and then charged the
room with her. She had found herself the centre of all eyes, her pretty
dress torn, her hair about her ears. So that she had shaken him
off—with too much impatience, no doubt, and too little consideration
for the touchiness of his temper. And then, what stormy looks, what
mutterings, what disappearances into the refreshment-room—and,
finally, what, fierce jealousy of the schoolmaster! Laura awoke at last
to the disagreeable fact that she had to drive home with him—and he
had already made her ridiculous. Even Polly—the bedizened
Polly—looked grave, and there had been angry conferences between her
and her brother.
Then came the departure, Laura by this time full of terrors, but not
knowing what to do, nor how else she was to get home. And, oh! that
grinning band of youths round the door—Mason's triumphant leap into
the cart and boisterous farewell to his friends—and that first
perilous moment, when the pony had almost backed into the mill stream,
and was only set right again by half a dozen stalwart arms, amid the
laughter of the street!
As for the wild drive through the dark, she shivered again, half
with anger, half with terror, as she thought of it. How had they ever
got home? She could not tell. He was drunk, of course. He seemed to her
to have driven into everything and over everything, abusing the
schoolmaster and Mr. Helbeck and his mother all the time, and turning
upon her when she answered him, or showed any terror of what might
happen to them, now with fury, and now with attempts at love-making
which it had taken all her power over him to quell.
Their rush up the park had been like the ride of the wild horseman.
Every moment she had expected to be in the river. And with the approach
of the house he had grown wilder and more unmanageable than before.
“Dang it! let's wake up the old Papist!” he had said to her when she
had tried to stop his singing. “What harm'll it do?”
As for the shame of their arrival, the very thought of Mr. Helbeck
standing silent on the steps as they approached, of Hubert's behaviour,
of her host's manner to her in the hall, made her shut her eyes and
hide her red face against Fricka for sympathy. How was she ever to meet
Mr. Helbeck again, to hold her own against him any more!
* * * * *
An hour later Laura, very carefully dressed, and holding herself
very erect, entered Augustina's room.
“Oh, Laura!” cried Mrs. Fountain, as the door opened. She was very
flushed, and she stared from her bed at her stepdaughter in an agitated
Laura stopped short.
“Well, what is it, Augustina? What have you heard?”
“Laura! how can you do such things!”
And Augustina, who already had her breakfast beside her, raised her
handkerchief to her eyes and began to cry. Laura threw up her head and
walked away to a far window, where she turned and confronted Mrs.
“Well, he has been quick in telling you,” she said, in a low but
“He? What do you mean? My brother? As if he had said a word! I don't
believe he ever would. But Mrs. Denton heard it all.”
“Mrs. Denton?” said Laura. “Mrs. Denton? What on earth had
she to do with it?”
“She heard you drive up. You know her room looks on the front.”
“And she listened? sly old creature!” said Laura, recovering
herself. “Well, it can't be helped. If she heard, she heard, and
whatever I may feel, I'm not going to apologise to Mrs. Denton.”
“But, Laura—Laura—was he——”
Augustina could not finish the odious question.
“I suppose he was,” said Laura bitterly. “It seems to be the natural
thing for young men of that sort.”
“Laura, do come here.”
Laura came unwillingly, and Augustina took her hands and looked up
“And, Laura, he was abominably rude to Alan!”
“Yes, he was, and I'm very sorry,” said the girl slowly. “But it
can't be helped, and it's no good making yourself miserable,
“Miserable? I? It's you, Laura, who look miserable. I never saw you
look so white and dragged. You must never, never see him again.”
The girl's obstinacy awoke in a moment.
“I don't know that I shall promise that, Augustina.”
“Oh, Laura! as if you could wish to,” said Augustina, in tears.
“I can't give up my father's people,” said the girl stiffly. “But he
shall never annoy Mr. Helbeck again, I promise you that, Augustina.”
“Oh! you did look so nice, Laura, and your dress was so pretty!”
Laura laughed, rather grimly.
“There's not much of it left this morning,” she said. “However, as
one of the gentlemen who kindly helped to ruin it said last night,
'Lor, bless yer, it'll wesh!'“
* * * * *
After breakfast Laura found herself in the drawing-room, looking
through an open window at the spring green in a very strained and
“I would not begin if I could not go on,” she said to herself with
disdain. But her lip trembled.
So Mr. Helbeck had taken offence, after all. Hardly a word at
breakfast, except such as the briefest, barest civility required. And
he was going away, it appeared, for three days, perhaps a week, on
business. If he had given her the slightest opening, she had meant to
master her pride sufficiently to renew her apologies and ask his
advice, subject, of course, to her own final judgment as to what
kindred and kindness might require of her. But he had given her no
opening, and the subject was not, apparently, to be renewed between
She might have asked him, too, to curb Mrs. Denton's tongue. But no,
it was not to be. Very well. The girl drew her small frame together and
prepared, as no one thought for or befriended her, to think for and
She passed the next few days in some depression. Mr. Helbeck was
absent. Augustina was very ailing and querulous, and Laura was made to
feel that it was her fault. Not a word of regret or apology came from
Meanwhile Mrs. Denton had apparently made her niece understand that
there was to be no more dallying with Miss Fountain. Whenever she and
Laura met, Ellen lowered her head and ran. Laura found that the girl
was not allowed to wait upon her personally any more. Meanwhile the
housekeeper herself passed Miss Fountain with a manner and a silence
which were in themselves an insult.
And two days after Helbeck's departure, Laura was crossing the hall
towards tea-time, when she saw Mrs. Denton admitting one of the Sisters
from the orphanage. It was the Reverend Mother herself, the portly
shrewd-faced woman who had wished Mr. Helbeck a good wife. Laura passed
her, and the nun saluted her coldly. “Dear me!—you shall have
Augustina to yourself, my good friend,” thought Miss Fountain. “Don't
be afraid.” And she turned into the garden.
An hour later she came back. As she opened the door in the old wall
she saw the Sister on the steps, talking with Mrs. Denton. At sight of
her they parted. The nun drew her long black cloak about her, ran down
the steps, and hurried away.
And indoors, Laura could not imagine what had happened to her
stepmother. Augustina was clearly excited, yet she would say nothing.
Her restlessness was incessant, and at intervals there were furtive
tears. Once or twice she looked at Laura with the most tragic eyes, but
as soon as Laura approached her she would hastily bury herself in her
newspaper, or begin counting the stitches of her knitting.
At last, after luncheon, Mrs. Fountain suddenly threw down her work
with a sigh that shook her small person from top to toe.
“I wish I knew what was wrong with you,” said Laura, coming up
behind her, and dropping a pair of soft hands on her shoulders. “Shall
I get you your new tonic?”
“No!” said Augustina pettishly; then, with a rush of words that she
could not repress:
“Laura, you must—you positively must give up that young man.”
Laura came round and seated herself on the fender stool in front of
“Oh! so that's it. Has anybody else been gossiping?”
“I do wish you wouldn't—you wouldn't take things so coolly!” cried
Augustina. “I tell you, the least trifle is enough to do a young girl
of your age harm. Your father would have been so annoyed.”
“I don't think so,” said Laura quietly. “But who is it now? The
Augustina hesitated. She had been recommended to keep things to
herself. But she had no will to set against Laura's, and she was, in
fact, bursting with suppressed remonstrance.
“It doesn't matter, my dear. One never knows where a story of that
kind will go to. That's just what girls don't remember.”
“Who told a story, and what? I didn't see the Reverend Mother at the
“Laura! But you never thought, my dear—you never knew—that there
was a cousin of Father Bowles' there—the man who keeps that little
Catholic shop in Market Street. That's what comes, you see, of going to
parties with people beneath you.”
“Oh! a cousin of Father Bowles was there?” said Laura slowly. “Well,
did he make a pretty tale?”
“Laura! you are the most provoking—You don't the least understand
what people think. How could you go with him when everybody
“Nobody remonstrated,” said the girl sharply.
“His sister begged you not to go.”
“His sister did nothing of the kind. She was staying the night in
the village, and there was literally nothing for me to do but come home
with Hubert or to throw myself on some stranger.”
“And such stories as one hears about this dreadful young man!” cried
“I dare say. There are always stories.”
“I couldn't even tell you what they are about!” said Augustina.
“Your father would certainly have forbidden it altogether.”
There was a silence. Laura held her head as high as ever. She was,
in fact, in a fever of contradiction and resentment, and the
interference of people like Mrs. Denton and the Sisters was fast
bringing about Mason's forgiveness. Naturally, she was likely to hear
the worst of him in that house. What Helbeck, or what dependent on a
Helbeck, would give him the benefit of any doubt?
Augustina knitted with all her might for a few minutes, and then
“Don't you think,” she said, with a timid change of tone—“don't you
think, dear, you might go to Cambridge for a few weeks? I am sure the
Friedlands would take you in. You would come in for all the parties,
and—and you needn't trouble about me. Sister Angela's niece could come
and stay here for a few weeks. The Reverend Mother told me so.”
“Sister Angela suggested that? Thank you, I won't have my plans
settled for me by Sister Angela. If you and Mr. Helbeck want to turn me
out, why, of course I shall go.”
Augustina held out her hands in terror at the girl's attitude and
“Laura, don't say such things! As if you weren't an angel to me! As
if I could bear the thought of anybody else!”
A quiver ran through Laura's features. “Well, then, don't bear it,”
she said, kneeling down again beside her stepmother. “You look quite
ill and excited, Augustina. I think we'll keep the Reverend Mother out
in future. Won't you lie down and let me cover you up?”
So it ended for the time—with physical weakness on Augustina's
part, and caresses on Laura's.
But when she was alone, Miss Fountain sat down and tried to think
“What are the Sisters meddling for? Do they find me in their way?
I'm flattered! I wish I was. Well!—is drunkenness the worst thing in
the world?” she asked herself deliberately. “Of course, if it goes
beyond a certain point it is like madness—you must keep out of its
way, for your own sake. But papa used to say there were many things a
great deal worse. So there are!—meanness, and shuffling with truth for
the sake of your soul. As for the other tales, I don't believe them.
But if I did, I am not going to marry him!”
She felt herself very wise. In truth, as Stephen Fountain had
realised with some anxiety before his death, among Laura's many
ignorances, none was so complete or so dangerous as her ignorance of
all the ugly ground facts that are strewn round us, for the stumbling
of mankind. She was as determined not to know them, as he was
invincibly shy of telling them.
For the rest, her reflections represented, no doubt, many dicta that
in the course of her young life she had heard from her father. To
Stephen Fountain the whole Christian doctrine of sin was “the enemy”;
and the mystical hatred of certain actions and habits, as such, was the
fount of half the world's unreason.
The following day it was Father Bowles' turn. He came over in what
seemed to be his softest and most catlike mood, rubbing his hands over
his chest in a constant glee at his own jokes. He was amiability itself
to Laura. But he, too, had his twenty minutes alone with Augustina; and
afterwards Mrs. Fountain ventured once more to speak to Laura of change
and amusement. Miss Fountain smiled, and replied as before—that, in
the first place she had no invitations, and in the next, she had no
dresses. But again, as before, if Mr. Helbeck should express a wish
that her visit to Bannisdale should come to an end, that would be
* * * * *
Next morning Laura was taking a walk in the park when a letter was
brought to her by old Wilson, the groom, cowman, and general factotum.
She took it to a sheltered nook by the riverside and read it. It was
from Hubert Mason, in his best commercial hand, and it ran as follows:
“Dear Miss Fountain,—You would not allow me, I know, to call you
Cousin Laura any more, so I don't attempt it. And of course I don't
deserve it—nor that you should ever shake hands with me again. I can't
get over thinking of what I've done. Mother and Polly will tell you
that I have hardly slept at nights—for of course you won't believe me.
How I can have been such a blackguard I don't understand. I must have
taken too much. All I know is it didn't seem much, and but for the
agitation of my mind, I don't believe anything would ever have gone
wrong. But I couldn't bear to see you dancing with that man and
despising me. And there it is—I can never get over it, and you will
never forgive me. I feel I can't stay here any more, and mother has
consented at last to let me have some money on the farm. If I could
just see you before I go, to say good-bye, and ask your pardon, there
would be a better chance for me. I can't come to Mr. Helbeck's house,
of course, and I don't suppose you would come here. I shall be coming
home from Kirby Whardale fair to-morrow night, and shall be crossing
the little bridge in the park—upper end—some time between eight and
nine. But I know you won't be there. I can't expect it, and I feel it
pretty badly, I can tell you. I did hope I might have become something
better through knowing you. Whatever you may think of me I am always
“Your respectful and humble cousin,
“Well—upon my word!” said Laura. She threw the letter on to the
grass beside her, and sat, with her hands round her knees, staring at
the river, in a sparkle of anger and amazement.
What audacity!—to expect her to steal out at night—in the dusk,
anyway—to meet him—him! She fed her wrath on the imagination
of all the details that would belong to such an escapade. It would be
after supper, of course, in the fast lengthening twilight. Helbeck and
his sister would be in the drawing-room—for Mr. Helbeck was expected
home on the following day—and she might perfectly well leave them, as
she often did, to talk their little Catholic gossip by themselves, and
then slip out by the chapel passage and door, through the old garden,
to the gate in the wall above the river bank, and so to the road that
led along the Greet through the upper end of the park. Nothing, of
course, could be easier—nothing.
Merely to think of it, for a girl of Laura's temperament, was
already bit by bit to incline to it. She began to turn it over, to
taste the adventure of it—to talk very fast to Fricka, under her
breath, with little gusts of laughter. And no doubt there was something
mollifying in the boy's humble expressions. As for his sleepless
nights—how salutary! how very salutary! Only the nail must be driven
in deeper—must be turned in the wound.
It would need a vast amount of severity, perhaps, to undo the
effects of her mere obedience to his call—supposing she made up her
mind to obey it. Well! she would be quite equal to severity. She would
speak very plain things to him—very plain things indeed. It was her
first serious adventure with any of these big, foolish, troublesome
creatures of the male sex, and she rose to it much as Helbeck might
have risen to the playing of a salmon in the Greet. Yes! he should say
good-bye to her, let priests and nuns talk what scandal they pleased.
Yes! he should go on his way forgiven and admonished—if he wished
it—for kindred's sake.
Her cheek burned, her heart beat fast. He and she were of one
blood—both of them ill-regarded by aristocrats and holy Romans. As for
him, he was going to ruin at home; and there was in him this strange,
artistic gift to be thought for and rescued. He had all the faults of
the young cub. Was he to be wholly disowned for that? Was she to cast
him off for ever at the mere bidding of the Helbecks and their friends?
He would never, of course, be allowed to enter the Bannisdale
drawing-room, and she had no intention at present of going to Browhead
Farm. Well, then, under the skies and the clouds! A gracious pardon, an
appropriate lecture—and a short farewell.
* * * * *
All that day and the next Laura gave herself to her whim. She was
perfectly conscious, meanwhile, that it was a reckless and a wilful
thing that she was planning. She liked it none the less for that. In
fact, the scheme was the final crystallisation of all that bitterness
of mood that had poisoned and tormented her ever since her first coming
to Bannisdale. And it gave her for the moment the morbid pleasure that
all angry people get from letting loose the angry word or act.
Meanwhile she became more and more conscious of a certain network of
blame and discussion that seemed to be closing about her and her
actions. It showed itself by a number of small signs. When she went
into Whinthorpe to shop for Augustina she fancied that the assistants
in the shop, and even the portly draper himself, looked at her with a
sly curiosity. The girl's sore pride grew more unmanageable hour by
hour. If there was some ill-natured gossip about her, going the round
in the town and the neighbourhood, had she—till now—given the least
shadow of excuse for it? Not the least shade of a shadow!
* * * * *
Mr. Helbeck, his sister, and Laura were in the drawing-room after
supper. Laura had been observing Mrs. Fountain closely.
“She is longing to have her talk with him,” thought the girl; “and
she shall have it—as much as she likes.”
The shutters were not yet closed, and the room, with its crackling
logs, was filled with a gentle mingled light. The sun, indeed, was
gone, but the west still glowed, and the tall larches in the front
enclosure stood black against a golden dome of sky. Laura rose and left
the room. As she opened the door she caught Augustina's quick look of
relief and the drop of the knitting-needles.
Fricka was safely prisoned upstairs. Laura slipped on a hat and a
dark cloak that were hanging in the hall, and ran down the passage
leading to the chapel. The heavy seventeenth-century door at the end of
it took her some trouble to open without noise, but it was done at
last, and she was in the old garden.
Her little figure in its cloak, among the dark yews, was hardly to
be seen in the dusk. The garden was silence itself, and the gate in the
wall was open. Once on the road beside the river she could hardly
restrain herself from running, so keen was the air, so free and wide
the evening solitude. All things were at peace; nothing moved but a few
birds and the tiniest intermittent breeze. Overhead, great
thunderclouds kept the sunset; beneath, the blues of the evening were
all interwoven with rose; so, too, were the wood and sky reflections in
the gently moving water. In some of the pools the trout were still
lazily rising; pigeons and homing rooks were slowly passing through the
clear space that lay between the tree-tops and the just emerging stars;
and once Laura stopped, holding her breath, thinking that she saw
through the dusk the blue flash of a kingfisher making for a nest she
knew. Even in this dimmed light the trees had the May magnificence—all
but the oaks, which still dreamed of a best to come. Here and there a
few tufts of primroses, on the bosom of the crag above the river,
lonely and self-sufficing, like all loveliest things, starred the
dimness of the rock.
Laura's feet danced beneath her; the evening beauty and her
passionate response flowed as it were into each other, made one beating
pulse; never, in spite of qualms and angers, had she been more
physically happy, more alive. She passed the seat where she and Helbeck
had lingered on Easter Sunday; then she struck into a path high above
the river, under spreading oaks; and presently a little bridge came in
sight, with some steps in the crag leading down to it.
At the near end of the bridge, thrown out into the river a little
way for the convenience of fishermen, was a small wooden platform, with
a railing, which held a seat. The seat was well hidden under the trees
and bank, and Laura settled herself there.
She had hardly waited five minutes, absorbed in the sheer pleasure
of the rippling river and the soft air, when she heard steps
approaching the bank. Looking up, she saw Mason's figure against the
sky. He paused at the top of the rocky staircase, to scan the bridge
and its approaches. Not seeing her, he threw up his hand, with some
exclamation that she could not hear.
She smiled and rose.
As her small form became visible between the paleness of the wooden
platform and a luminous patch in the river, she heard a cry, then a
hurrying down the rock steps.
He stopped about a yard from her. She did not offer her hand, and
after an instant's pause, during which his eyes tried to search her
face in the darkness, he took off his hat and drew his hand across his
brow with a deep breath.
“I never thought you'd come,” he said huskily.
“Well, certainly you had no business to ask me! And I can only stay
a very few minutes. Suppose you sit down there.”
She pointed to one of the rock steps, while she settled herself
again on the seat, some little distance away from him.
Then there was an awkward silence, which Laura took no trouble to
break. Mason broke it at last in desperation.
“You know that I'm an awful hand at saying anything, Miss—Miss
Fountain. I can't—so it's no good. But I've got my lesson. I've had a
pretty rough time of it, I can tell you, since last week.”
“You behaved about as badly as you could—didn't you?” said Laura's
soft yet cutting voice out of the dark.
“I can't make it no better,” he said at last. “There's no saying I
can, for I can't. And if I did give you excuses, you'd not believe 'em.
There was a devil got hold of me that evening—that's the truth on't.
And it was only a glass or two I took. Well, there!—I'd have cut my
hand off sooner.”
His tone of miserable humility began to affect her rather strangely.
It was not so easy to drive in the nail.
“You needn't be so repentant,” she said, with a little shrinking
laugh. “One has to forget—everything—in good time. You've given
Whinthorpe people something to talk about at my expense—for which I am
not at all obliged to you. You nearly killed me, which doesn't matter.
And you behaved disgracefully to Mr. Helbeck. But it's done—and now
you've got to make up—somehow.”
“Has he made you pay for it—since?” said Mason eagerly.
“He? Mr. Helbeck?” She laughed. Then she added, with all the
severity she could muster, “He treated me in a most kind and
gentlemanly way—if you want to know. The great pity is that you—and
Cousin Elizabeth—understand nothing at all about him.”
He groaned. She could hear his feet restlessly moving.
“Well—and now you are going to Froswick,” she resumed. “What are
you going to do there?”
“There's an uncle of mine in one of the shipbuilding yards there.
He's got leave to take me into the fitting department. If I suit he'll
get me into the office. It's what I've wanted this two years.”
“Well, now you've got it,” she said impatiently, “don't be dismal.
You have your chance.”
“Yes, and I don't care a haporth about it,” he said, with sudden
energy, throwing his head up and bringing his fist down on his knee.
She felt her power, and liked it. But she hurried to answer:
“Oh! yes you do! If you're a man, you must. You'll learn a
lot of new things—you'll keep straight, because you'll have plenty to
do. Why, it will 'hatch you over again, and hatch, you different,' as
somebody said. You'll see.”
He looked at her, trying hard to catch her expression in the dusk.
“And if I do come back different, perhaps—perhaps—soom day you'll
not be ashamed to be seen wi' me? Look here, Miss Laura. From the first
time I set eyes on you—from that day you came up—that Sunday—I
haven't been able to settle to a thing. I felt, right enough, I wasn't
fit to speak to you. And yet I'm your—well, your kith and kin, doan't
you see? There can't be no such tremendous gap atween us as all that.
If I can just manage myself a bit, and find the work that suits me, and
get away from these fellows here, and this beastly farm——”
“Ah!—have you been quarrelling with Daffady all day?”
She looked for him to fly out. But he only stared, and then turned
“O Lord! what's the good of talking?” he said, with an accent that
She rose from her seat.
“Are you sorry I came to talk to you? You didn't deserve it—did
Her voice was the pearliest, most musical, and yet most distant of
things. He rose, too—held by it.
“And now you must just go and make a man of yourself. That's what
you have to do—you see? I wish papa was alive. He'd tell you how—I
can't. But if you forget your music, it'll be a sin—and if you send me
your song to write out for you, I'll do it. And tell Polly I'll come
and see her again some day. Now good-night! They'll be locking up if I
don't hurry home.”
But he stood on the step, barring the way.
“I say, give me something to take with me,” he said hoarsely.
“What's that in your hat?”
“In my hat?” she said, laughing—(but if there had been light he
would have seen that her lips had paled). “Why, a bunch of buttercups.
I bought them at Whinthorpe yesterday.”
“Give me one,” he said.
“Give you a sham buttercup? What nonsense!”
“It's better than nothing,” he said doggedly, and he held out his
She hesitated; then she took off her hat and quietly loosened one of
the flowers. Her golden hair shone in the dimness. Mason never took his
eyes off her little head. He was keeping a grip on himself that was
taxing a whole new set of powers—straining the lad's unripe nature in
wholly new ways.
She put the flower in his hand.
“There; now we're friends again, aren't we? Let me pass, please—and
He moved to one side, blindly fighting with the impulse to throw his
powerful arms round her and keep her there, or carry her across the
bridge—at his pleasure.
But her light fearlessness mastered him. He let her go; he watched
her figure on the steps, against the moonlight between the oaks
“Good-night!” she dropped again, already far away—far above him.
The young man felt a sob in his throat.
“My God! I shan't ever see her again,” he said to himself in a
sudden terror. “She is going to that house—to that man!”
For the first time a wild jealousy of Helbeck awoke in him. He
rushed across the bridge, dropped on a stone half-way up the further
bank, then strained his eyes across the river.
... Yes, there she passed, a swift moving whiteness, among the great
trees that stood like watchmen along the high edge of the water. Below
him flowed the stream, a gulf of darkness, rent here and there by
sheets and jags of silver. And she, that pale wraith—across it—far
away—was flitting from his ken.
All the fountains of the youth's nature surged up in one great
outcry and confusion. He thought of his boyish loves and
sensualities—of the girls who had provoked them—of some of the ugly
facts connected with them. A great astonishment, a great sickening,
came upon him. He felt the burden of the flesh, the struggle of the
spirit. And through it all, the maddest and most covetous
yearning!—welling up through schemes and hopes, that like the moonlit
ripples on the Greet, dissolved as fast as they took shape.
* * * * *
Meanwhile Laura went quickly home. A new tenderness, a new remorse
towards the “cub” was in the girl's mind. Ought she to have gone? Had
she been kind? Oh! she would be his friend and good angel—without any
nonsense, of course.
She hurried through the trees and along the dimly gleaming path.
Suddenly she perceived in the distance the sparkle of a lantern.
How vexatious! Was there no escape for her? She looked in some
trouble at the climbing woods above, at the steep bank below.
Ah! well, her hat was large, and hid her face. And her dress was all
covered by her cloak. She hastened on.
It was a man—an old man—carrying a bundle and a lantern. He seemed
to waver and stop as she approached him, and at the actual moment of
her passing him, to her amazement, he suddenly threw himself against
one of the trees on the mountain side of the path, and his lantern
showed her his face for an instant—a white face, stricken with—fear,
was it? or what?
Fright gained upon herself. She ran on, and as she ran it seemed to
her that she heard something fall with a clang, and, afterwards, a cry.
She looked back. The old man was still there, erect, but his light was
Well, no doubt he had dropped his lantern. Let him light it again.
It was no concern, of hers.
Here was the door in the wall. It opened to her touch. She glided
in—across the garden—found the chapel door ajar, and in a few more
seconds was safe in her own room.
Laura was standing before her looking-glass straightening the curls
that her rapid walk had disarranged, when her attention was caught by
certain unusual sounds in the house. There was a hurrying of distant
feet—calls, as though from the kitchen region—and lastly, the deep
voice of Mr. Helbeck. Miss Fountain paused, brush in hand, wondering
what had happened.
A noise of fluttering skirts, and a cry for “Laura!”—Miss Fountain
opened her door, and saw Augustina, who never ran, hurrying as fast as
her feebleness would let her, towards her stepdaughter.
“Laura!—where is my sal volatile? You gave me some yesterday, you
remember, for my headache. There's somebody ill, downstairs.”
She paused for breath.
“Here it is,” said Laura, finding the bottle, and bringing it.
“Oh, my dear, such an adventure! There's an old man fainted in the
kitchen. He came to the back door to ask for a light for his lantern.
Mrs. Denton says he was shaking all over when she first saw him, and as
white as her apron. He told her he'd seen the ghost! 'I've often heard
tell o' the Bannisdale Lady,' he said, 'an now I've seen her!' She
asked him to sit down a minute to rest himself, and he fainted straight
away. He's that old Scarsbrook, you know, whose wife does our washing.
They live in that cottage by the weir, the other end of the park. I
must go! Mrs. Denton's giving him some brandy—and Alan's gone down.
Isn't it an extraordinary thing?”
“Very,” said Laura, accompanying her stepmother along the passage.
“What did he see?”
She paused, laying a restraining hand on Augustina's arm—cudgelling
her brains the while. Yes! she could remember now a few contemptuous
remarks of Mr. Helbeck to Father Leadham on the subject of a ghost
story that had sprung up during the Squire's memory in connection with
the park and the house—a quite modern story, according to Helbeck,
turning on the common motive of a gypsy woman and her curse, started
some forty years before this date, with a local success not a little
offensive, apparently, to the owner of Bannisdale.
“What did he see?” repeated the girl. “Don't hurry, Augustina; you
know the doctor told you not. Shall I take the sal volatile?”
“Oh, no!—they want me.” In any matter of doctoring small or great,
Augustina had the happiest sense of her own importance. “I don't know
what he saw exactly. It was a lady, he says—he knew it was, by the hat
and the walk. She was all in black—with 'a Dolly Varden hat'—fancy
the old fellow!—that hid her face—and a little white hand, that shot
out sparks as he came up to her! Did you ever hear such, a tale? Now,
Laura, I'm all right. Let me go. Come when you like.”
Augustina hurried off; Laura was left standing pensive in the
“H'm, that's unlucky,” she said to herself.
Then she looked down at her right hand. An old-fashioned diamond
ring with a large centre stone, which had been her mother's, shone on
the third finger. With an involuntary smile, she drew off the ring, and
went back to her room.
“What's to be done now?” she thought, as she put the ring in a
drawer. “Shall I go down and explain—say I was out for a stroll?”—She
shook her head.—“Won't do now—I should have had more presence of mind
a minute ago. Augustina would suspect a hundred things. It's really
dramatic. Shall I go down? He didn't see my face—no, that I'll answer
for! Here's for it!”
She pulled out the golden mass of her hair till it made a denser
frame than usual round her brow, looked at her white dress—shook her
head dubiously—laughed at her own flushed face in the glass, and
calmly went downstairs.
She found an anxious group in the great bare servants' hall. The old
man, supported by pillows, was stretched on a wooden settle, with
Helbeck, Augustina, and Mrs. Denton standing by. The first things she
saw were the old peasant's closed eyes and pallid face—then Helbeck's
grave and puzzled countenance above him. The Squire turned at Miss
Fountain's step. Did she imagine it—or was there a peculiar sharpness
in his swift glance?
Mrs. Denton had just been administering a second dose of brandy, and
was apparently in the midst of her own report to her master of
“'I wor just aboot to pass her,' he said, 'when I nawticed 'at her
feet made noa noise. She keaem glidin—an glidin—an my hair stood reet
oop—it lifted t'whole top o' my yed. An she gaed passt me like a puff
o' wind—as cauld as ice—an I wor mair deed nor alive. An I luked
afther her, an she vanisht i' th' varra middle o' t' path. An my leet
went oot—an I durstn't ha gane on, if it wor iver so—so I juist
crawled back tet hoose——'“
“The door in the wall!” thought Laura. “He didn't know it was
She had remained in the background while Mrs. Denton was speaking,
but now she approached the settle. Mrs. Denton threw a sour look at
her, and flounced out of her way. Helbeck silently made room for her.
As she passed him, she felt instinctively that his distant politeness
had become something more pronounced. He left her questions to
Augustina to answer, and himself thrust his hands into his pockets and
“Have you sent for anyone?” said Laura to Mrs. Fountain.
“Yes. Wilson's gone in the pony cart for the wife. And if he doesn't
come round by the time she gets here—some one will have to go for the
She looked round vaguely.
“Of course. Wilson must go on,” said Helbeck from the distance. “Or
I'll go myself.”
“But he is coming round,” said Laura, pointing.
“If yo'll nobbut move oot o' t' way, Miss, we'll be able to get at
'im,” said Mrs. Denton sharply. Laura hastily obeyed her. The
housekeeper brought more brandy; then signs of returning force grew
stronger, and by the time the wife appeared the old fellow was feebly
beginning to move and look about him.
Amid the torrent of lamentations, questions, and hypotheses that the
wife poured forth, Laura withdrew into the background. But she could
not prevail on herself to go. Daring or excitement held her there, till
the old man should be quite himself again.
He struggled to his feet at last, and said, with a long sigh that
was still half a shudder, “Aye—noo I'll goa home—Lisbeth.”
He was a piteous spectacle as he stood there, still trembling
through all his stunted frame, his wrinkled face drawn and bloodless,
his grey hair in a tragic confusion. Suddenly, as he looked at his
wife, he said with a clear solemnity, “Lisbeth—I ha' got my death
“Don't say any such thing, Scarsbrook,” said Helbeck, coming forward
to support him. “You know I don't believe in this ghost business—and
never did. You saw some stranger in the park—and she passed you too
quickly for you to see where she went to. You may be sure that'll turn
out to be the truth. You remember—it's a public path—anybody might be
there. Just try and take that view of it—and don't fret, for your
wife's sake. We'll make inquiries, and I'll come and see you to-morrow.
And as for death warrants, we're all in God's care, you know—don't
He smiled with a kindly concern and pity on the old man. But
Scarsbrook shook his head.
“It wur t' Bannisdale Lady,” he repeated; “I've often heerd on
her—often—and noo I've seen her.”
“Well, to-morrow you'll be quite proud of it,” said Helbeck
cheerfully. “Come, and let me put you into the cart. I think, if we
make a comfortable seat for you, you'll be fit to drive home now.”
Supported by the Squire's strong arm on one side, and his wife on
the other, Scarsbrook managed to hobble down the long passage leading
to the door in the inner courtyard, where the pony cart was standing.
It was evident that his perceptions were still wholly dazed. He had not
recognised or spoken to anyone in the room but the Squire—not even to
his old crony Mrs. Denton.
Laura drew a long breath.
“Augustina, do go to bed,” she said, going up to her stepmother—“or
you'll be ill next.”
Augustina allowed herself to be led upstairs. But it was long before
she would let her stepdaughter leave her. She was full of supernatural
terrors and excitements, and must talk about all the former appearances
of the ghost—the stories that used to be told in her childhood—the
new or startling details in the old man's version, and so forth. “What
could he have meant by the light on the hand?” she said wondering. “I
never heard of that before. And she used always to be in grey; and now
he says that she had a black dress from top to toe.”
“Their wardrobes are so limited—poor damp, sloppy things!” said
Laura flippantly, as she brushed her stepmother's hair. “Do you suppose
this nonsense will be all over the country-side to-morrow, Augustina?”
“What do you really think he saw, Laura?” cried Mrs.
Fountain, wavering between doubt and belief.
“Goodness!—don't ask me.” Miss Fountain shrugged her small
shoulders. “I don't keep a family ghost.”
* * * * *
When at last Augustina had been settled in bed, and persuaded to
take some of her sleeping medicine, Laura was bidding her good-night,
when Mrs. Fountain said, “Oh! I forgot, Laura—there was a letter
brought in for you from the post-office, by Wilson this afternoon—he
gave it to Mrs. Denton, and she forgot it till after dinner——”
“Of course—because it was mine,” said Laura vindictively. “Where is
“On the drawing-room chimney-piece.”
“All right. I'll go for it. But I shall be disturbing Mr. Helbeck.”
“Oh! no—it's much too late. Alan will have gone to his study.”
Miss Fountain stood a moment outside her stepmother's door,
consulting her watch.
For she was anxious to get her letter, and not at all anxious to
fall in with Mr. Helbeck. At least, so she would have explained herself
had anyone questioned her. In fact, her wishes and intentions were in
tumultuous confusion. All the time that she was waiting on Augustina,
her brain, her pulse was racing. In the added touch of stiffness which
she had observed in Helbeck's manner, she easily divined the result of
that conversation he had no doubt held with Augustina after dinner,
while she was by the river. Did he think even worse of her than he had
before? Well!—if he and Augustina could do without her, let them send
her away—by all manner of means! She had her own friends, her own
money, was in all respects her own mistress, and only asked to be
allowed to lead her life as she pleased.
Nevertheless—as she crossed the darkness of the hall, with her
candle in her hand—Laura Fountain was very near indeed to a fit of
wild weeping. During the months following her father's death, these
agonies of crying had come upon her night after night—unseen by any
human being. She felt now the approach of an old enemy and struggled
with it. “One mustn't have this excitement every night!” she said to
herself, half mocking. “No nerves would stand it.”
A light under the library door. Well and good. How—she
wondered—did he occupy himself there, through so many solitary hours?
Once or twice she had heard him come upstairs to bed, and never before
one or two o'clock.
Suddenly she stood abashed. She had thrown open the drawing-room
door, and the room lay before her, almost in darkness. One dim lamp
still burned at the further end, and in the middle of the room stood
Mr. Helbeck, arrested in his walk to and fro, and the picture of
Laura drew back in real discomfiture. “Oh, I beg your pardon, Mr.
Helbeck! I had no notion that anyone was still here.”
“Is there anything I can do for you?” he said advancing.
“Augustina told me there was a letter for me this evening.”
“Of course. It is here on the mantelpiece. I ought to have
He took up the letter and held it towards her. Then suddenly he
paused, and sharply withdrawing it, he placed it on a table beside him,
and laid his hand upon it. She saw a flash of quick resolution in his
face, and her own pulses gave a throb.
“Miss Fountain, will you excuse my detaining you for a moment? I
have been thinking much about this old man's story, and the possible
explanation of it. It struck me in a very singular way. As you know, I
have never paid much attention to the ghost story here—we have never
before had a testimony so direct. Is it possible—that you might throw
some light upon it? You left us, you remember, after dinner. Did you by
chance go into the garden?—the evening was tempting, I think. If so,
your memory might possibly recall to you some—slight thing.”
“Yes,” she said, after a moment's hesitation, “I did go into the
His eye gleamed. He came a step nearer.
“Did you see or hear anything—to explain what happened?”
She did not answer for a moment. She made a vague movement, as
though to recover her letter—looked curiously into a glass case that
stood beside her, containing a few Stuart relics and autographs. Then,
with absolute self-possession, she turned and confronted him, one hand
resting on the glass case.
“Yes; I can explain it all. I was the ghost!”
There was a moment's silence. A smile—a smile that she winced
under, showed itself on Helbeck's lip.
“I imagined as much,” he said quietly.
She stood there, torn by different impulses. Then a passion of
annoyance with herself, and anger with him, descended on her.
“Now perhaps you would like to know why I concealed it?” she said,
with all the dignity she could command. “Simply, because I had gone out
to meet and say good-bye to a person—who is my relation—whom I cannot
meet in this house, and against whom there is here an unreasonable—“
She hesitated; then resumed, leaning obstinately on the words—“Yes!
take it all in all, it is an unreasonable prejudice.”
“You mean Mr. Hubert Mason?”
“You think it an unreasonable prejudice after what happened the
“I don't want to defend what happened the other night,” she said,
while her voice shook.
Helbeck observed her carefully. There was a great decision in his
manner, and at the same time a fine courtesy.
“You knew, then, that he was to be in the park? Forgive my
questions. They are not mere curiosity.”
“Perhaps not,” she said indifferently. “But I think I have told you
all that needs to be told. May I have my letter?”
She stepped forward.
“One moment. I wonder, Miss Fountain,”—he chose his words
slowly—“if I could make you understand my position. It is this. My
sister brings a young lady, her stepdaughter, to stay under my roof.
That young lady happens to be connected with a family in this
neighbourhood, which is already well known to me. For some of its
members I have nothing but respect—about one I happen to have a strong
opinion. I have reasons, for my opinion. I imagine that very few people
of any way of thinking would hold me either unreasonable or prejudiced
in the matter. Naturally, it gives me some concern that a young lady
towards whom I feel a certain responsibility should be much seen with
this young man. He is not her equal socially, and—pardon me—she knows
nothing at all about the type to which he belongs. Indirectly I try to
warn her. I speak to my sister as gently as I can. But from the first
she rejects all I have to say—she gives me credit for no good
intention—and she will have none of my advice. At last a disagreeable
incident happens—and unfortunately the knowledge of it is not confined
Laura threw him a flashing look.
“No!—there are people who have taken care of that!” she said.
Helbeck took no notice.
“It is known not only to ourselves,” he repeated steadily. “It
starts gossip. My sister is troubled. She asks you to put an end to
this state of things, and she consults me, feeling that indeed we are
all in some way concerned.”
“Oh, say at once that I have brought scandal on you all!” cried
Laura. “That of course is what Sister Angela and Father Bowles have
been saying to Augustina. They are pleased to show the greatest anxiety
about me—so much so, that they most kindly wish to relieve me of the
charge of Augustina.—So I understand! But I fear I am neither docile
nor grateful!—that I never shall be grateful——”
“Let us come to that presently. I should like to finish my story.
While my sister and I are consulting, trying to think of all that can
be done to stop a foolish talk and undo an unlucky incident, this same
young lady”—his voice took a cold clearness—“steals out by night to
keep an appointment with this man, who has already done her so great a
disservice. Now I should like to ask her, if all this is kind—is
reasonable—is generous towards the persons with whom she is at present
living—if such conduct is not”—he paused—“unwise towards
herself—unjust towards others.”
His words came out with a strong and vibrating emphasis. Laura
confronted him with crimson cheeks.
“I think that will do, Mr. Helbeck!” she cried. “You have had your
say.—Now just let me say this,—these people were my relations—I have
no other kith and kin in the world.”
He made a quick step forward as though in distress. But she put up
“I want very much to say this, please. I knew perfectly well when I
came here that you couldn't like the Masons—for many reasons.” Her
voice broke again. “You never liked Augustina's marriage—you weren't
likely to want to see anything of papa's people. I didn't ask you to
see them. All my standards and theirs are different from yours. But I
prefer theirs—not yours! I have nothing to do with yours. I was
brought up—well, to hate yours—if one must tell the truth.”
She paused, half suffocated, her chest heaving. Helbeck's glance
enveloped her—took in the contrast between her violent words and the
shrinking delicacy of her small form. A great melting stole over the
man's dark face. But he spoke dryly enough.
“I imagine the standards of Protestants and Catholics are pretty
much alike in matters of this kind. But don't let us waste time any
more over what has already happened. I should like, I confess, to plead
with you as to the future.”
He looked at her kindly, even entreatingly. All through this scene
she had been unwittingly, angrily conscious of his personal dignity and
charm—a dignity that seemed to emerge in moments of heightened action
or feeling, and to slip out of sight again under the absent
hermit-manner of his ordinary life. She was smarting under his
words—ready to concentrate a double passion of resentment upon them,
as soon as she should be alone and free to recall them. And yet——
“As to the future,” she said coldly. “That is simple enough as far
as one person is concerned. Hubert Mason is going to Froswick
immediately, into business.”
“I am glad to hear it—it will be very much for his good.”
He stopped a moment, searching for the word of persuasion and
“Miss Fountain!—if you imagine that certain incidents which
happened here long before you came into this neighbourhood had anything
to do with what I have been saying now, let me assure you—most
earnestly—that it is not so! I recognise fully that with regard to a
certain case—of which you may have heard—the Masons and their friends
honestly believed that wrong and injustice had been done. They
attempted personal violence. I can hardly be expected to think it
argument! But I bear them no malice. I say this because you may have
heard of something that happened three or four years ago—a row in the
streets, when Father Bowles and I were set upon. It has never weighed
with me in the slightest, and I could have shaken hands with old
Mason—who was in the crowd, and refused to stop the stone
throwing—the day after. As for Mrs. Mason”—he looked up with a
smile—“if she could possibly have persuaded herself to come with her
daughter and see you here, my welcome would not have been wanting. But,
you know, she would as soon visit Gehenna! Nobody could be more
conscious than I, Miss Fountain, that this is a dreary house for a
young lady to live in—and——”
The colour mounted into his face, but he did not shrink from what he
meant to say.
“And you have made us all feel that you regard the practices and
observances by which we try to fill and inspire our lives, as mere
hateful folly and superstition!” He checked himself. “Is that too
strong?” he added, with a sudden eagerness. “If so, I apologise for and
Laura, for a moment, was speechless. Then she gathered her forces,
and said, with a voice she in vain tried to compose:
“I think you exaggerate, Mr. Helbeck; at any rate, I hope you do.
But the fact is, I—I ought not to have tried to bear it. Considering
all that had happened at home—it was more than I had strength for! And
perhaps—no good will come of going on with it—and it had better
cease. Mr. Helbeck!—if your Superior can really find a good nurse and
companion at once, will you kindly communicate with her? I will go to
Cambridge immediately, as soon as I can arrange with my friends.
Augustina, no doubt, will come and stay with me somewhere at the sea,
later on in the year.”
Helbeck had been listening to her—to the sharp determination of her
voice—in total silence. He was leaning against the high mantelpiece,
and his face was hidden from her. As she ceased to speak, he turned,
and his mere aspect beat down the girl's anger in a moment. He shook
his head sadly.
“Dr. MacBride stopped me on the bridge yesterday, as he was coming
away from the house.”
Laura drew back. Her eyes fastened upon him.
“He thinks her in a serious state. We are not to alarm her, or
interfere with her daily habits. There is valvular disease—as I think
you know—and it has advanced. Neither he nor anyone can forecast.”
The girl's head fell. She recognised that the contest was over. She
could not go; she could not leave Augustina; and the inference was
clear. There had not been a word of menace, but she understood. Mr.
Helbeck's will must prevail. She had brought this humiliating half-hour
on herself—and she would have to bear the consequences of it. She
moved towards Helbeck.
“Well then, I must stay,” she said huskily, “and I must try to—to
remember where I am in future. I ought to be able to hide everything I
feel—of course! But that unfortunately is what I never learnt.
And—there are some ways of life—that—that are too far apart.
However!”—she raised her hand to her brow, frowned, and thought a
little—“I can't make any promise about my cousins, Mr. Helbeck. I
know perfectly well—whatever may be said—that I have done nothing
whatever to be ashamed of. I have wanted to—to help my cousin. He is
worth helping—in spite of everything—and I will help him, if I
can! But if I am to remain your guest, I see that I must consult your
Helbeck tried again to stop her with a gesture, but she hurried on.
“As far as this house and neighbourhood are concerned, no one shall
have any reason—to talk.”
Then she threw her head back with a sudden flush.
“Of course, if people are born to say and think ill-natured
things!—like Mrs. Denton——”
“I will see to that,” he said. “You shall have no reason to
Laura shrugged her shoulders.
“Will you kindly give me my letter?”
As he handed it to her, she made him a little bow, walked to the
door before he could open it for her, and was gone.
Helbeck turned back, with a smothered exclamation. He put the lamps
out, and went slowly to his study.
* * * * *
As the master of Bannisdale closed the door of his library behind
him, the familiar room produced upon him a sharp and singular
impression. The most sacred and the most critical hours of his life had
been passed within its walls. As he entered it now, it seemed to
repulse him, to be no longer his.
The room was not large. It was the old library of the house, and the
Helbecks in their palmiest days had never been a literary race. There
was a little seventeenth century theology; and a few English classics.
There were the French books of Helbeck's grandmother—“Madame,” as she
was always known at Bannisdale; and amongst them the worn brown volumes
of St. Francois de Sales, with the yellowish paper slips that Madame
had put in to mark her favourite passages, somewhere in the days of the
First Empire. Near by were some stray military volumes, treatises on
tactics and fortification, that had belonged to a dashing young officer
in the Dillon Regiment, close to some “Epitres Amoureux,” a translation
of “Daphnis and Chloe,” and the like—all now sunk together into the
same dusty neglect.
On the wall above Helbeck's writing-table were ranged the books that
had been his mother's, together with those that he himself habitually
used. Here every volume was an old friend, a familiar tool. Alan
Helbeck was neither a student nor a man of letters; but he had certain
passionate prejudices, instincts, emotions, of which some books were
the source and sustenance.
For the rest—during some years he had been a member of the Third
Order of St. Francis, and in its other features the room was almost the
room of a religious. A priedieu stood against the inner wall, and a
crucifix hung above it. A little further on was a small altar of St.
Joseph with its pictures, its statuette, and its candles; and a poor
lithograph of Pio Nono looked down from the mantelpiece. The floor was
almost bare, save for a few pieces of old matting here and there. The
worn Turkey carpet that had formerly covered it had been removed to
make the drawing-room comfortable for Augustina; so had most of the
chairs. Those left were of the straightest and hardest.
In that dingy room, however, Helbeck had known the most blessed, the
most intimate moments of the spiritual life. To-night he entered it
with a strange sense of wrench—of mortal discouragement. Mechanically
he went to his writing-table, and, sitting down before it, he took a
key from his watch-chain and opened a large locked note-book that lay
The book contained a number of written meditations, a collection of
passages and thoughts, together with some faded photographs of his
mother, and of his earliest Jesuit teachers at Stonyhurst.
On the last page was a paragraph that only the night before he had
copied from one of his habitual books of devotion—copying it as a
spiritual exercise—making himself dwell upon every word of it.
“When shall I desire Thee alone—feed on Thee alone—O my
Delight, my only good! O my loving and almighty Lord! free now this
wretched heart from every attachment, from every earthly affection;
adorn it with Thy holy virtues, and with a pure intention of doing all
things to please Thee, that so I may open it to Thee, and with gentle
violence compel Thee to come in, that Thou, O Lord, mayest work therein
without resistance all those effects which from all Eternity Thou hast
desired to produce in me.“
He lingered a little on the words, his face buried in his hands.
Then slowly he turned back to an earlier page—
“Man must use creatures as being in themselves indifferent. He
must not be under their power, but use them for his own purpose, his
own first and chiefest purpose, the salvation of his soul.“
A shudder passed through him. He rose hastily from his seat, and
began to pace the room. He had already passed through a wrestle of the
same kind, and had gone away to fight down temptation. To-night the
struggle was harder. The waves of rising passion broke through him.
“Little pale, angry face! I gave her a scolding like a child—what
joy to have forgiven her like a child!—to have asked her pardon in
return—to have felt the soft head against my breast. She was very
fierce with me—she hates me, I suppose. And yet—she is not
indifferent to me!—she knows when I am there. Downstairs she was
conscious of me all through—I knew it. Her secret was in her face. I
guessed it—foolish child—from the first moment. Strange, stormy
nature!—I see it all—her passion for her father, and for these
peasants as belonging to him—her hatred of me and of our faith,
because her father hated us—her feeling for Augustina—that rigid
sense, of obligation she has, just on the two or three points—points
of natural affection. It is this sense, perhaps, that makes the soul of
her struggle with this house—with me. How she loathes all that we
love—humility, patience, obedience! She would sooner die than obey.
Unless she loved! Then what an art, what an enchantment to command her!
It would tax a lover's power, a lover's heart, to the utmost. Ah!”
He stood still, and with an effort of iron resolution put from him
the fancies that were thronging on the brain. If it were possible for
him to conquer her, conceivable that he might win her—such a dream was
forbidden to him, Alan Helbeck, a thousandfold! Such a marriage would
be the destruction of innumerable schemes for the good of the Church,
for the perfecting of his own life. It would be the betrayal of great
trusts, the abandonment of great opportunities. “My life would centre
in her. She would come first—the Church second. Her nature would work
on mine—not mine on hers. Could I ever speak to her even of what I
believe?—the very alphabet of it is unknown to her. I shrink from
proselytism. God forgive me!—it is her wild pagan self that I
love—that I desire——”
The blast of human longing, human pain, was hard to meet—hard to
subdue. But the Catholic fought—and conquered.
“I am not my own—I have taken tasks upon me that no honest man
could betray. There are vows on me also, that bind me specially to our
Lord—to his Church. The Church frowns on such a love—such marriages.
She does not forbid them—but they pain her heart. I have accepted her
judgment till now, without difficulty, without conflict. Now to obey is
hard. But I can obey—we are not asked impossibilities.”
He walked to the crucifix, and threw himself down before it. A
midnight stillness brooded over the house.
* * * * *
But far away, in an upper room, Laura Fountain had cried herself to
sleep—only to wake again and again, with the tears flooding her
cheeks. Was it merely a disagreeable and exciting scene she had gone
through? What was this new invasion of her life?—this new presence to
the inward eye of a form and look that at once drew her and repulsed
her. A hundred alien forces were threatening and pressing upon her—and
out from the very heart of them came this strange drawing—this
magnetism—this troubling misery.
To be prisoned in Bannisdale—under Mr. Helbeck's roof—for months
and months longer—this thought was maddening to her.
But when she imagined herself free to go—and far away once more
from this old and melancholy house—among congenial friends and
scenes—she was no happier than before. A little moan of anger and pain
came, that she stifled against her pillow, calling passionately on the
sleep that would, that must, chase all these phantoms of fatigue or
excitement—and give her back her old free self.
“We shall get there in capital time—that's nice!” said Polly Mason,
putting down the little railway guide she had just purchased at
Marsland Station, with a general rustle of satisfaction.
Polly indeed shone with good temper and new clothes. Her
fringe—even halved—was prodigious. Her cheap lemon-coloured gloves
were cracking on her large hands; and round her beflowered hat she had
tied clouds on clouds of white tulle, which to some extent softened the
tans and crimsons of her complexion. Her dress was of a stiff white
cotton stuff, that fell into the most startling folds and angles; and
at every movement of it, the starch rattled.
On the opposite seat of the railway carriage was Laura Fountain—an
open book upon her knee that she was not reading. She made no answer,
however, to Polly's remark; the impression left by her attitude was
that she took no interest in it. Miss Fountain herself hardly seemed to
have profited much by that Westmoreland air whereof the qualities were
to do so much for Augustina. It was now June, the end of June, and
Laura was certainly paler, less blooming, than she had been in March.
She seemed more conscious; she was certainly less radiant. Whether her
prettiness had gained by the slight change, might be debated. Polly's
eyes, indeed, as they sped along, paid her cousin one long covetous
tribute. The difficulty that she always had in putting on her own
clothes, and softening her own physical points, made her the more
conscious of Laura's delicate ease, of all the yielding and graceful
lines into which the little black and white muslin frock fell so
readily, of all that natural kinship between Laura and her hats, Laura
and her gloves, which poor Polly fully perceived, knowing well and
sadly that she herself could never attain to it.
Nevertheless—pretty, Miss Fountain might be; elegant she certainly
was; but Polly did not find her the best of companions for a festal
day. They were going to Froswick—the big town on the coast—to meet
Hubert and another young man, one Mr. Seaton, foreman in a large
engineering concern, whose name Polly had not been able to mention
without bridling, for some time past.
It was more than a fortnight since the sister, driven by Hubert's
incessant letters, had proposed to Laura that they two should spend a
summer day at Froswick and see the great steel works on which the fame
of that place depended, escorted and entertained by the two young men.
Laura at first had turned a deaf ear. Then all at once—a very flare of
eagerness and acceptance!—a sudden choosing of day and train. And now
that they were actually on their way, with everything arranged, and a
glorious June sun above their heads, Laura was so silent, so reluctant,
so irritable—you might have thought——
Well!—Polly really did not know what to think. She was not quite
happy herself. From time to time, as her look dwelt on Laura, she was
conscious of certain guilty reserves and concealments in her own
breast. She wished Hubert had more sense—she hoped to goodness it
would all go off nicely! But of course it would. Polly was an optimist
and took all things simply. Her anxieties for Laura did not long resist
the mere pleasure of the journey and the trip, the flatteries of
expectation. What a very respectable and, on the whole, good-looking
young man was Mr. Seaton! Polly had met him first at the Browhead
dance; so that what was a mere black and ugly spot in Laura's memory
shone rosy-red in her cousin's.
Meanwhile Laura, mainly to avoid Polly's conversation, was looking
hard out of window. They were running along the southern shore of a
great estuary. Behind the loitering train rose the hills they had just
left, the hills that sheltered the stream and the woods of Bannisdale.
That rich, dark patch beneath the further brow was the wood in which
the house stood. To the north, across the bay, ran the line of high
mountains, a dim paradise of sunny slopes and steeps, under the keenest
and brightest of skies—blue ramparts from which the gently opening
valleys flowed downwards, one beside the other, to the estuary and the
Not that the great plunging sea itself was much to be seen as yet.
Immediately beyond the railway line stretched leagues of firm reddish
sand, pierced by the innumerable channels of the Greet. The sun lay hot
and dazzling on the wide flat surfaces, on the flocks of gulls, on the
pools of clear water. The window was open, and through the June heat
swept a sharp, salt breath. Laura, however, felt none of the physical
exhilaration that as a rule overflowed in her so readily. Was it
because the Bannisdale Woods were still visible? What made the
significance of that dark patch to the girl's restless eye? She came
back to it again and again. It was like a flag, round which a hundred
warring thoughts had come to gather.
Were not she and Mr. Helbeck on the best of terms? Was not Augustina
quite pleased—quite content? “I always knew, my dear Laura, that you
and Alan would get on, in time. Why, anyone could get on with
Alan—he's so kind!” When these things were said, Laura generally
laughed. She did not remind Mrs. Fountain that she, at one time of her
existence, had not found it particularly easy and simple to “get on
with Alan”; but the girl did once allow herself the retort—“It's not
so easy to quarrel, is it, when you don't see a person from week's end
to week's end?” “Week's end to week's end?” Mrs. Fountain repeated
vaguely. “Yes—Alan is away a great deal—people trust him so much—he
has so much business.”
Laura was of opinion that his first business might very well have
been to see a little more of his widowed sister! She and Augustina
spent days and days alone, while Mr. Helbeck pursued the affairs of the
Church. One precious attempt indeed had been made to break the dulness
of Bannisdale. Miss Fountain's cheeks burned when she thought of it.
There had been an afternoon party! though Augustina's widowhood was
barely a year old! Mrs. Fountain had been sent about the country
delivering notes and cards. And the result:—oh, such a party!—such an
interminable afternoon! Where had the people come from?—who were they?
If Polly, full of curiosity, asked for some details, Laura would toss
her head and reply that she knew nothing at all about it; that Mrs.
Denton had provided bad tea and worse cakes, and the guests had “filled
their chairs,” and there was nothing else to say. Mr. Helbeck's shyness
and efforts; the glances of appeal he threw every now and then towards
his sister; his evident depression when the thing was done—these
things were not told to Polly. There was a place for them in the girl's
sore mind; but they did not come to speech. Anyway she believed—nay,
was quite sure—that Bannisdale would not be so tried a second time.
For whose benefit was it done?—whose!
As the train crossed the bridge of the estuary, from one stretch of
hot sand to another, Laura, staring at the view, saw really nothing but
an image of the mind, felt nothing except what came through the magic
The hall of Bannisdale, with the lingering daylight of the north
still coming in at ten o'clock through the uncurtained oriel
windows—herself at the piano, Augustina on the settle—a scent of
night and flowers spreading through the dim place from the open windows
of the drawing-room beyond. One candle is beside her—and there are
strange glints of moonlight here and there on the panelling. A tall
figure enters from the chapel passage. Augustina makes room on the
settle—the Squire leans back and listens. And the girl at the piano
plays; the stillness and the night seem to lay releasing hands upon
her; bonds that have been stifling and cramping the soul break down;
she plays with all her self, as she might have talked or wept to a
friend—to her father.... And at last, in a pause, the Squire puts a
new candle beside her, and his deep shy voice commends her, asks her to
go on playing. Afterwards, there is a pleasant and gentle talk for half
an hour—Augustina can hardly be made to go to bed—and when at last
she rises, the girl's small hand slips into the man's, is lost there,
feels a new lingering touch, from which both withdraw in almost equal
haste. And the night, for the girl, is broken with restlessness, with
wild efforts to draw the old fetters tight again, to clamp and prison
something that flutters—that struggles.
Then next morning, there is an empty chair at the breakfast table.
“The Squire left early on business.” Without any warning—any courteous
message? One evening at home, after a long absence, and then—off
again! A good Catholic, it seems, lives in the train, and makes himself
the catspaw of all who wish to use him for their own ends!
... As to that old peasant, Scarsbrook, what could be more
arbitrary, more absurd, than Mr. Helbeck's behaviour? The matter turns
out to be serious. Fright blanches the old fellow's beard and hair; he
takes to his bed, and the doctor talks of severe “nervous shock”—very
serious, often deadly, at the patient's age. Why not confess everything
at once, set things straight, free the poor shaken mind from its
oppression? Who's afraid?—what harm is there in an after-dinner
But there!—truth apparently is what no one wants, what no one will
have—least of all, Mr. Helbeck. She sees a meeting in the park, under
the oaks—the same tall man and the girl—the girl bound impetuously
for confession, and the soothing of old Scarsbrook's terrors once for
all—the man standing in the way, as tough and prickly as one of his
own hawthorns. Courtesy, of course! there is no one can make courtesy
so galling; and then such a shooting out of will and personality, so
sudden, so volcanic a heat of remonstrance! And a woman is such a poor
ill-strung creature, even the boldest of them! She yields when she
should have pressed forward—goes home to rage, when she should have
stayed to wrestle.
Afterwards, another absence—the old house silent as the grave—and
Augustina so fretful, so wearisome! But she is better, much better. How
unscrupulous are doctors, and those other persons who make them say
exactly what suits the moment!
The dulness seems to grow with the June heat. Soon it becomes
intolerable. Nobody comes, nobody speaks; no mind offers itself to
yours for confidence and sympathy. Well, but change and excitement of
some sort one must have!—who is to blame, if you get it where
A day in Froswick with Hubert Mason? Yes—why not? Polly proposes
it—has proposed it once or twice before to no purpose. For two months
now the young man has been in training. Polly writes to him often;
Laura sometimes wonders whether the cross-examinations through which
Polly puts her may not partly be for Hubert's benefit. She herself has
written twice to him in answer to some half-dozen letters, has
corrected his song for him—has played altogether a very moral and
sisterly part. Is the youth really in love? Perhaps. Will it do him any
Augustina of course dislikes the prospect of the Froswick day. But,
really, Augustina must put up with it! The Reverend Mother will come
for the afternoon, and keep her company. Such civility of late on the
part of all the Catholic friends of Bannisdale towards Miss
Fountain!—a civility always on the watch, week by week, day by
day—that never yields itself for an instant, has never a human
impulse, an unguarded tone. Father Leadham is there one day—he makes a
point of talking with Miss Fountain. He leads the conversation to
Cambridge, to her father—his keen glance upon her all the time, the
hidden life of the convert and the mystic leaping every now and then to
the surface, and driven down again by a will that makes itself
felt—even by so cool a listener—as a living tyrannous thing,
developed out of all proportion to, nay at the cruel expense of, the
rest of the personality. Yet it is no will of the man's own—it is the
will of his order, of his faith. And why these repeated stray
references to Bannisdale—to its owner—to the owner's goings and
comings? They are hardly questions, but they might easily have done the
work of questions had the person addressed been willing. Laura laughs
to think of it.
Ah! well—but discretion to-day, discretion to-morrow, discretion
always, is not the most amusing of diets. How dumb, how tame, has she
become! There is no one to fight with, nothing whereon to let loose the
sharp-edged words and sayings that lie so close behind the girl's shut
lips. How amazing that one should positively miss those fuller
activities in the chapel that depend on the Squire's presence! Father
Bowles says Mass there twice a week; the light still burns before the
altar; several times a day Augustina disappears within the heavy doors.
But when Mr. Helbeck is at home, the place becomes, as it were, the
strong heart of the house. It beats through the whole organism; so that
no one can ignore or forget it.
What is it that makes the difference when he returns? Unwillingly,
the mind shapes its reply. A sense of unity and law comes back into the
house—a hidden dignity and poetry. The Squire's black head carries
with it stern reminders, reminders that challenge or provoke; but “he
nothing common does nor mean,” and smaller mortals, as the weeks go by,
begin to feel their hot angers and criticisms driven back upon
themselves, to realise the strange persistency and force of the
Inhuman force! But force of any kind tends to draw, to conquer. More
than once Laura sees herself at night, almost on the steps of the
chapel, in the dark shadows of the passage—following Augustina. But
she has never yet mounted the steps—never passed the door. Once or
twice she has angrily snatched herself from listening to the distant
... Mr. Helbeck makes very little comment on the Froswick plan. One
swift involuntary look at breakfast, as who might say—“Our compact?”
But there was no compact. And go she will.
And at last all opposition clears away. It must be Mr. Helbeck who
has silenced Augustina—for even she complains no more. Trains are
looked out; arrangements are made to fetch Polly from a half-way
village; a fly is ordered to meet the 9.10 train at night. Why does one
feel a culprit all through? Absurdity! Is one to be mewed up all one's
life, to throw over all fun and frolic at Mr. Helbeck's bidding—Mr.
Helbeck, who now scarcely sets foot in Bannisdale, who seems to have
turned his back upon his own house, since that precise moment when his
sister and her stepdaughter came to inhabit it? Never till this year
was he restless in this way—so says Mrs. Denton, whose temper grows
shorter and shorter.
Oh—as to fun and frolic! The girl yawns as she looks out of window.
What a long hot day it is going to be—and how foolish are all
expeditions, all formal pleasures! 9.10 at Marsland—about seven, she
supposes, at Froswick? Already her thoughts are busy, hungrily busy
with the evening, and the return.
* * * * *
The train sped along. They passed a little watering-place under the
steep wooded hills—a furnace of sun on this hot June day, in winter a
soft and sheltered refuge from the north. Further on rose the ruins of
a great Cistercian abbey, great ribs and arches of red sandstone, that
still, in ruin, made the soul and beauty of a quiet valley; then a few
busy towns with mills and factories, the fringe of that industrial
district which lies on the southern and western border of the Lake
Country; more wide valleys sweeping back into blue mountains; a wealth
of June leaf and blossoming tree; and at last docks and buildings,
warehouses and “works,” a network of spreading railway lines, and all
the other signs of an important and growing town. The train stopped
amid a crowd, and Polly hurried to the door.
“Why, Hubert!—Mr. Seaton!—Here we are!”
She beckoned wildly, and not a few passers-by turned to look at the
nodding clouds of tulle.
“We shall find them, Polly—don't shout,” said Laura behind her, in
Shout and beckon, however, Polly did and would, till the two young
men were finally secured.
“Why, Hubert, you never towd me what a big place 'twas,” said Polly
joyously. “Lor, Mr. Seaton, doant fash yoursel. This is Miss
Fountain—my cousin. You'll remember her, I knaw.”
Mr. Seaton began a polite and stilted speech while possessing
himself of Polly's shawl and bag. He was a very superior young man of
the clerk or foreman type, somewhat ill put together at the waist, with
a flat back to his head, and a cadaverous countenance. Laura gave him a
rapid look. But her chief curiosity was for Hubert. And at her first
glance she saw the signs of that strong and silent process perpetually
going on amongst us that tames the countryman to the life and habits of
the town. It was only a couple of months since the young athlete from
the fells had been brought within its sway, and already the marks of it
were evident in dress, speech, and manner. The dialect was almost gone;
the black Sunday coat was of the most fashionable cut that Froswick
could provide; and as they walked along, Laura detected more than once
in the downcast eyes of her companion, a stealthy anxiety as to the
knees of his new grey trousers. So far the change was not an
embellishment. The first loss of freedom and rough strength is never
that. But it roused the girl's notice, and a sort of secret sympathy.
She too had felt the curb of an alien life!—she could almost have held
out her hand to him as to a comrade in captivity.
Outside the station, to Laura's surprise—considering the object of
the expedition—Hubert made a sign to his sister, and they two dropped
behind a little.
“What's the matter with her?” said Hubert abruptly, as soon as he
judged that they were out of hearing of the couple in front.
“Who do you mean? Laura? Why, she's well enoof!”
“Then she don't look it. She's fretting. What's wrong with her?”
As Hubert looked down upon his sister, Polly was startled by the
impatient annoyance of look and manner. And how red-rimmed and weary
were the lad's eyes! You might have thought he had not slept for a
week. Polly's mind ran through a series of conjectures; and she broke
out with Westmoreland plainness—
“Hubert, I do wish tha wouldn't be sich a fool! I've towd tha so
times and times.”
“Aye, and you may tell me so till kingdom come—I shan't mind you,”
he said doggedly. “There's something between her and the Squire, I know
there is. I know it by the look of her.”
“How you jump! I tell tha she never says a word aboot him.”
Hubert looked moodily at Laura's little figure in front.
“All the more reason!” he said between his teeth. “She'd talk about
him when she first came. But I'll find out—never fear.”
“For goodness' sake, Hubert, let her be!” said Polly, entreating.
“Sich wild stuff as thoo's been writin me! Yan might ha thowt yo'd be
fer cuttin yor throat, if yo' didn't get her doon here.—What art tha
thinkin of, lad? She'll never marry tha! She doan't belong to us—and
there's noa undoin it.”
Hubert made no reply, but unconsciously his muscular frame took a
passionate rigidity; his face became set and obstinate.
“Well, you keep watch,” he said. “You'll see—I'll make it worth
Polly looked up—half laughing. She understood his reference to
herself and her new sweetheart. Hubert would play her game if she would
play his. Well—she had no objection whatever to help him to the sight
of Laura when she could. Polly's moral sense was not over-delicate, and
as to the upshot and issues of things, her imagination moved but
slowly. She did not like to let herself think of what might have been
Hubert's relations to women—to one or two wild girls about Whinthorpe
for instance. But Laura—Laura who was so much their social better,
whose manners and self-possession awed them both, what smallest harm
could ever come to her from any act or word of Hubert's? For this
rustic Westmoreland girl, Laura Fountain stood on a pedestal robed and
sceptred like a little queen. Hubert was a fool to fret himself—a fool
to go courting some one too high for him. What else was there to say or
think about it?
At the next street corner Laura made a resolute stop. Polly should
not any longer be defrauded of her Mr. Seaton. Besides she, Laura,
wished to talk to Hubert. Mr. Beaton's long words, and way of mouthing
his highly correct phrases, had already seemed to take the savour out
of the morning.
When the exchange was made—Mr. Seaton alas! showing less eagerness
than might have been expected—Laura quietly examined her companion. It
seemed to her that he was taller than ever; surely she was not much
higher than his elbow! Hubert, conscious that he was being scrutinised,
turned red, looked away, coughed, and apparently could find nothing to
“Well—how are you getting on?” said the light voice, sending its
vibration through all the man's strong frame.
“I suppose I'm getting on all right,” he said, switching at the
railings beside the road with his stick.
“What sort of work do you do?”
He gave her a stumbling account, from which she gathered that he was
for the time being the factotum of an office, sent on everybody's
errands, and made responsible for everybody's shortcomings.
She threw him a glance of pity. This young Hercules, with his
open-air traditions, and his athlete's triumphs behind him, turned into
the butt and underling of half a dozen clerks in a stuffy office!
“I don't mind,” he said hastily. “All the others paid for their
places; I didn't pay for mine. I'll be even with them all some day. It
was the chance I wanted, and my uncle gives me a lift now and then. It
was to please him they gave me the berth; he's worth thousands and
thousands a year to them!”
And he launched into a boasting account of the importance and
abilities of his uncle, Daniel Mason, who was now managing director of
the great shipbuilding yard into which Hubert had been taken, as a
favour to his kinsman.
“He began at the bottom, same as me—only he was younger than me,”
said Hubert, “so he had the pull. But you'll see, I'll work up. I've
learnt a lot since I've been here. The classes at the Institute—well,
Laura showed an astonished glance. New sides of the lad seemed to be
She inquired after his music. But he declared he was too busy to
think of it. By-and-by in the winter he would have lessons. There was a
violin class at the Institute—perhaps he'd join that. Then abruptly,
staring down upon her with his wide blue eyes—
“And how have you been getting on with the Squire?”
He thought she started, but couldn't be quite sure.
“Getting on with the Squire? Why, capitally! Whenever he's there to
get on with.”
“What—he's been away?” he said eagerly.
She raised her shoulders.
“He's always away——”
“Why, I thought they'd have made a Papist of you by now,” he said.
His laugh was rough, but his eyes held her with a curious
“Think something more reasonable, please, next time! Now, where are
we going to lunch?”
“We've got it all ready. But we must see the yard first.... Miss
Fountain—Laura—I've got that flower you gave me.”
His voice was suddenly hoarse.
She glanced at him, lifting her eyebrows.
“Very foolish of you, I'm sure.... Now do tell me, how did you get
off so early?”
He sulkily explained to her that work was unusually slack in his own
yard; that, moreover, he had worked special overtime during the week in
order to get an hour or two off this Saturday, and that Seaton was on
night duty at a large engineering “works,” and lord therefore of his
days. But she paid small attention. She was occupied in looking at the
new buildings and streets, the brand new squares and statues of
“How can people build and live in such ugly places?” she said at
last, standing still that she might stare about her—“when there are
such lovely things in the world; Cambridge, for
The last word slipped out, dreamily, unaware.
The lad's face flushed furiously.
“I don't know what there is to see in Bannisdale,” he said hotly.
“It's a damp, dark, beastly hole of a place.”
“I prefer Bannisdale to this, thank you,” said Laura, making a
little face at the very ample bronze gentleman in a frock coat who was
standing in the centre of a great new-built empty square, haranguing a
phantom crowd. “Oh! how ugly it is to succeed—to have money!”
Mason looked at her with a half-puzzled frown—a frown that of late
had begun to tease his handsome forehead habitually.
“What's the harm of having a bit of brass?” he said angrily. “And
what's the beauty o' livin in an old ramshackle place, without a
sixpence in your pocket, and a pride fit to bring you to the
Laura's little mouth showed amusement, an amusement that stung. She
lifted a little fan that hung at her girdle.
“Is there any shade in Froswick?” she said, looking round her.
Mason was silenced, and as Polly and Mr. Seaton joined them, he
recovered his temper with a mighty effort and once more set himself to
do the honours—the slighted honours—of his new home.
... But oh! the heat of the ship-building yard. Laura was already
tired and faint, and could hardly drag her feet up and down the sides
of the great skeleton ships that lay building in the docks, or through
the interminable “fitting” sheds with their piles of mahogany and teak,
their whirring lathes and saws, their heaps of shavings, their resinous
wood smell. And yet the managing director appeared in person for twenty
minutes, a thin, small, hawk-eyed man, not at all unwilling to give a
brief patronage to the young lady who might be said to link the houses
of Mason and Helbeck in a flattering equality.
“He wad never ha doon it for us!” Polly whispered in her awe
to Miss Fountain. “It's you he's affther!”
Laura, however, was not grateful. She took her industrial lesson
ill, with much haste and inattention, so that once when the director
and his nephew fell behind, the great man, whose speech to his kinsman
in private was often little less broad than Mrs. Mason's own—said
“An I doan't think much o' your fine cousin, mon! she's nobbut a
The young man said nothing. He was still slavishly ill at ease with
his uncle, on whose benevolence all his future depended.
“Is there something more to see?” said Laura languidly.
“Only the steel works,” said Mr. Seaton, with a patronising smile.
“You young ladies, I presume, would hardly wish to go away without
seeing our chief establishment. Froswick Steel and Hematite Works
employ three thousand workmen.”
“Do they?—and does it matter?” said Laura, playing with the salt.
She wore a little plaintive, tired air, which suited her soft
paleness, and made her extraordinarily engaging in the eyes of both the
young men. Mason watched her perpetually, anticipating her slightest
movement, waiting on her least want. And Mr. Seaton, usually so certain
of his own emotions and so wholly in command of them, began to feel
himself confused. It was with a distinct slackening of ardour that he
looked from Miss Fountain to Polly—his Polly, as he had almost come to
think of her, honest managing Polly, who would have a bit of “brass,”
and was in all respects a tidy and suitable wife for such a man as he.
But why had she wrapped all that silly white stuff round her head? And
her hands!—Mr. Seaton slyly withdrew his eyes from Polly's reddened
members to fix them on the thin white wrist that Laura was holding
poised in air, and the pretty fingers twirling the salt spoon.
Polly meantime sat up very straight, and was no longer talkative.
Lunch had not improved her complexion, as the mirror hanging opposite
showed her. Every now and then she too threw little restless glances
across at Laura.
“Why, we needn't go to the works at all if we don't like,” said
Polly. “Can't we get a fly, Hubert, and take a jaunt soomwhere?”
Hubert bent forward with alacrity. Of course they could. If they
went four miles up the river or so, they would come to real nice
country and a farmhouse where they could have tea.
“Well, I'm game,” said Mr. Seaton, magnanimously slapping his
pocket. “Anything to please these ladies.”
“I don't know about that seven o'clock train,” said Mason
“Well, if we can't get that, there's a later one.”
“No, that's the last.”
“You may trust me,” said Seaton pompously. “I know my way about a
railway guide. There's one a little after eight.”
Hubert shook his head. He thought Seaton was mistaken. But Laura
settled the matter.
“Thank you—we'll not miss our train,” she said, rising to put her
hat straight before the glass—“so it's the works, please. What is
it—furnaces and red-hot things?”
In another minute or two they were in the street again. Mr. Seaton
settled the bill with a magnificent “Damn the expense” air, which
annoyed Mason—who was of course a partner in all the charges of the
day—and made Laura bite her lip. Outside he showed a strong desire to
walk with Miss Fountain that he might instruct her in the details of
the Bessemer process and the manufacture of steel rails. But the ease
with which the little nonchalant creature disposed of him, the rapidity
with which he found himself transferred to Polly, and left to stare at
the backs of Laura and Hubert hurrying along in front, amazed him.
“Isn't she nice looking?” said poor Polly, as she too stared
helplessly at the distant pair.
Her shawl weighed upon her arm, Mr. Seaton had forgotten to ask for
it. But there was a little sudden balm in the irritable vexation of his
“Some people may be of that opinion, Miss Mason. I own I prefer a
greater degree of balance in the fair sex.”
“Oh! does he mean me?” thought Polly.
And her spirits revived a little.
* * * * *
Meanwhile, as Laura and Hubert walked along to the desolate road
that led to the great steel works, Hubert knew a kind of jealous and
tormented bliss. She was there, fluttering beside him, her delicate
face often turned to him, her feet keeping step with his. And at the
same time what strong intangible barriers between them! She had put
away her mocking tone—was clearly determined to be kind and cousinly.
Yet every word only set the tides of love and misery swelling more
strongly in the lad's breast. “She doan't belong to us, an there's noa
undoin it.” Polly's phrase haunted his ear. Yet he dared ask her no
more questions about Helbeck; small and frail as she was, she could
wrap herself in an unapproachable dignity; nobody had ever yet solved
the mystery of Laura's inmost feeling against her will; and Hubert knew
despairingly that his clumsy methods had small chance with her. But he
felt with a kind of rage that there were signs of suffering about her;
he divined something to know, at the same time that he realised with
all plainness it was not for his knowing. Ah! that man—that ugly
starched hypocrite—after all had he got hold of her? Who could live
near her without feeling this pain—this pang?... Was she to be
surrendered to him without a struggle—to that canting, droning fellow,
with his jail of a house? Why, he would crush the life out of her in
There was a rush and whirl in the lad's senses. A cry of animal
jealousy—of violence—rose in his being.
* * * * *
“How wonderful!—how enchanting!” cried Laura, her glance sparkling,
her whole frame quivering with pleasure.
They had just entered the great main shed of the steel works. The
foreman, who had been induced by the young men to take them through,
was in the act of placing Laura in the shelter of a brick screen, so as
to protect her from a glowing shower of sparks that would otherwise
have swept over her; and the girl had thrown a few startled looks
A vast shed, much of it in darkness, and crowded with dim forms of
iron and brick—at one end, and one side, openings, where the June day
came through. Within—a grandiose mingling of fire and shadow—a vast
glare of white or bluish flame from a huge furnace roaring against the
inner wall of the shed—sparks, like star showers, whirling through
dark spaces—ingots of glowing steel, pillars of pure fire passing and
repassing, so that the heat of them scorched the girl's shrinking
cheek—and everywhere, dark against flame, the human movement answering
to the elemental leap and rush of the fire, black forms of men in a
constant activity, masters and ministers at once of this crackling
terror round about them.
“Aye!” said their guide, answering the girl's questions as well as
he could in the roar—“that's the great furnace where they boil the
steel. Now you watch—when the flame—look! it's white now—turns
blue—that means the process is done—the steel's cooked. Then they'll
bring the vat beneath—turn the furnace over—you'll see the steel pour
“Is that a railway?”
She pointed to a raised platform in front of the furnace. A truck
bearing a high metal tub was running along it.
“Yes—it's from there they feed the furnace—in a minute you'll see
the tub tip over.”
There was a signal bell—a rattle of machinery. The tub tilted—a
great jet of white flame shot upwards from the furnace—the great mouth
had swallowed down its prey.
“And those men with their wheelbarrows? Why do they let them go so
She shuddered and put her hand over her eyes.
The foreman laughed.
“Why, it's quite safe!—the tub's moved out of the way. You see the
furnace has to be fed with different stuffs—-the tub brings one sort
and the barrows another. Now look—they're going to turn it over. Stand
He held up his hand to bid Mason come under shelter.
Laura looked round her.
“Where are the other two?” she asked.
“Oh! they've gone to see the bar-testing—they'll be here soon.
Seaton knows the man in charge of the testing workshop.”
Laura ceased to think of them. She was absorbed in the act before
her. The great lip of the furnace began to swing downwards; fresh
showers of sparks fled in wild curves and spirals through the shed; out
flowed the stream of liquid steel into the vat placed beneath. Then
slowly the fire cup righted itself; the flame roared once more against
the wall; the swarming figures to either side began once more to feed
the monster—men and trucks and wheelbarrow, the little railway line,
and the iron pillars supporting it, all black against the glare——
Laura stood breathless—her wild nature rapt by what she saw. But
while she hung on the spectacle before her, Mason never spared it a
glance. He was conscious of scarcely anything but her—her childish
form, in the little clinging dress, her white face, every soft feature
clear in the glow, her dancing eyes, her cloud of reddish hair, from
which her wide black hat had slipped away in the excitement of her
upward gaze. The lad took the image into his heart—it burnt there as
though it too were fire.
“Now let's look at something else!” said Laura at last, turning away
with a long breath.
And they took her to see the vat that had been filled from the
furnace, pouring itself into the ingot moulds—then the four moulds
travelling slowly onwards till they paused under a sort of iron hand
that descended and lifted them majestically from the white-hot steel
beneath, uncovering the four fiery pillars that reddened to a blood
colour as they moved across the shed—till, on the other side, one
ingot after another was lowered from the truck, and no sooner felt the
ground than it became the prey of some unseen force, which drove it
swiftly onwards from beneath, to where it leapt with a hiss and crunch
into the jaws of the mill. Then out again on the further side,
lengthened, and pared, the demon in it already half tamed!—flying as
it were from the first mill, only to be caught again in the squeeze of
the second, and the third—until at last the quivering rail emerged at
the further end, a twisting fire serpent, still soft under the
controlling rods of the workmen. On it glided, on, and out of the shed,
into the open air, till it reached a sort of platform over a pit, where
iron claws caught at it from beneath, and brought it to a final rest,
in its own place, beside its innumerable fellows, waiting for the
market and its buyers.
“Mayn't we go back once more to the furnace?” said Miss Fountain
eagerly to her guide—“just for a minute!”
He smiled at her, unable to say no.
And they walked back across the shed, to the brick shelter. The
great furnace was roaring as before, the white sheet of flame was
nearing its last change of colour, tub after tub, barrow after barrow
poured its contents into the vast flaring throat. Behind the shelter
was an elderly woman with a shawl over her head. She had brought a jar
of tea for some workmen, and was standing like any stranger, watching
the furnace and hiding from the sparks.
Now there is only one man more—and after that, one more tub to be
lowered—and the hell-broth is cooked once again, and will come
The man advances with his barrow. Laura sees his blackened face in
the intolerable light, as he turns to give a signal to those behind
him. An electric bell rings.
What was that?
God!—what was that?
A hideous cry rang through the works. Laura drew her hand in
bewilderment across her eyes. The foreman beside her shouted and ran
“Where's the man?” she said helplessly to Mason.
But Mason made no answer. He was clinging to the brick wall, his
eyes staring out of his head. A great clamour rose from the little
railway—from beneath it—from all sides of it. The shed began to swarm
with running men, all hurrying towards the furnace. The air was full of
their cries. It was like the loosing of a maddened hive.
Laura tottered, fell back against the wall. The old woman who had
come to bring the tea rushed up to her.
“Oh, Lord, save us!—Lord, save us!” she cried, with a wail to rend
And the two women fell into each other's arms, shuddering, with wild
broken words, which neither of them heard or knew.
END OF VOL. I